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Spirit of giving accompanies dentists and families on trip to Cuba

July 22, 2015

By David Burger

Photo of Cuba tour group
Gathering up: The GDA tour group assembles at the Jose Marti Memorial Museum in Havana.
Havana — Each year, the president of the Georgia Dental Association selects a trip that interested members and their families can go on. The goal of these trips is to have fun while meeting and spending time with other dentists from all corners of the state.

Past trips have included cruises to Alaska, the Bahamas and the Greek Islands.

In 2014, then-incoming president Dr. Doug Torbush and his wife Debbie decided to choose a trip where they could do more than just relax:

Cuba.

"Why not make it more than just fellowship and fun?" said Dr. Torbush.

While the nine-day trip in April still focused on a healthy share of fellowship and fun, the 39 GDA tour members agreed to add a humanitarian element to the trip.

Before the trip — which took a year to plan, Ms. Torbush said — a school was identified as having been all but destroyed by a hurricane several years ago. "It didn't look as if they had made much progress with the rebuilding," she said.

So the tour group made it a point to collect supplies for the school, located near the town of Trinidad in central Cuba. Besides school supplies, the tour group handed out baby teething toothbrushes, adult toothbrushes and toothpaste.

"They were very, very thankful," Ms. Torbush, past president of the Alliance of the ADA and past president of the Alliance of the GDA, said.

The school visit was just one of two highlights of the GDA trip, Dr. Torbush said. The other was a visit to the dental school at the Universidad de Ciencias Medicas Cienfuegos in central Cuba.

"Apparently we were the first to ask to visit a dental school," said tour member Dr. Karyn Stockwell, GDA member and international president of the Pierre Fauchard Academy.

The dental school provided a panel of four dentists to engage in questions and answers about the differences and similarities of dental schools in Cuba and those in the United States. The tour group also was able to meet with many of the dental students.

And because this was a tour group inclined to hand out items, dental supplies, baby teething toothbrushes and copies of the AADA's "Healthy Smiles From the Start" dental kit were given to the dental school. The kit is a prenatal educational tool kit, produced by the ADA, that includes a DVD and printable materials produced in English and Spanish.

Tour members said the charity made the GDA trip unique among recent trips.

"This trip was very special because we were able to contribute in our own small way to the country in ways we hadn't before," said Molly Bickford, a member of the AADA Leadership Council, past president of the Alliance of the GDA and co-developer of the "Healthy Smiles From the Start" program.

The spirit of giving didn't stop with the trips to the schools, Ms. Bickford said. Her husband brought guitar strings and picks with him from back home and enjoyed passing them out to buskers he met during the trip.