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Endodontists initiate new program to aid underserved in Jamaica

April 10, 2017

By David Burger


Happy together: Dr. Juheon Seung, resident at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, traveled to Treasure Beach, Jamaica, in March. He had the opportunity to perform endodontic treatment to help get patients out of pain.
Hopewell, Jamaica — Every morning, Dr. Juheon Seung and his colleagues would move the pews out of the makeshift dental clinic housed inside a church and bring in dental chairs.

And every evening, after the day's work was done, Dr. Seung would help move the dental chairs out and bring back the pews, so the local residents could attend the church's evening services.

Despite the logistical challenge, Dr. Seung said his weeklong humanitarian dental mission in the Treasure Beach area of southern Jamaica in March was "really fulfilling," something he and his fellow endodontic residents representing the Foundation for Endodontics has been yearning for.

The trip was part of a new outreach program run and funded by the Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American Association of Endodontists.

Since its inception in 1966, the Foundation has been a huge supporter of endondontic education and research — budgeting around $1.5 million for grants each year. But its resident committee, named REACH, also wanted an outreach component to have the opportunity to provide underserved patients with access to the highest standard of treatment, to save teeth that might otherwise be extracted, said Dr. Peter A. Morgan, president of the Foundation.

That has led to three humanitarian trips to Treasure Beach in Jamaica since March 2016, with as many as three more this year, Dr. Morgan said. Different residents and endodontists go on each trip.

"This outreach to care initiative has refocused our members and corporate supporters on the work of the Foundation for Endodontics," Dr. Morgan said.

The teams comprise one practicing endodontist and two endodontic residents. In its most recent visit, Dr. Seung, a resident at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, was joined by Dr. Eduardo Cruz, a resident at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, and the endodontist mentor, Dr. Fiza Singh, who practices in the Boston area and teaches part-time at Harvard.

The trips are hosted by Treasure Beach-area clinics in Jamaica and run and organized by Drs. James Carney and William Griffin.


First time: Drs. Victoria Ball, now a graduate of the Endodontic Department of Medical University of South Carolina, and Ryan McMahan, endodontic resident of the University of Michigan, were the first two volunteer residents to travel to Treasure Beach for the Foundation's initial outreach expedition in 2016. 
Dr. Carney, a Lombard, Illinois-based general dentist, has traveled four times a year for a quarter century to the desert area of Treasure Beach with his family — his wife is a retired dentist and his two daughters are dental students at Marquette University's School of Dentistry — and volunteers. "We are to be fishers of men, and to catch fish, we have to get up and go," said Dr. Carney, who credits the Christian Dental Society for its support. "For the past 24 years, my fishing hole has been Jamaica."

Dr. Carney said that although an endodontist has been among his volunteers in the past, getting dentists of that specialty has been "sporadic." So, when he was asked if three endodontists could be accommodated to come to his clinics regularly, he said, "Oh boy, can we ever."

The main clinic, and the one that Dr. Seung and his colleagues have performed root canals at, is located in the small fishing village of Hopewell. It shares a common wall with St. John's Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and the clinic itself houses eight dental chairs. When large groups of volunteers visit, the church next door can house another 10 chairs — as long as the pews are removed.

Dr. Seung said that this was his first international mission trip. He has participated in domestic Missions of Mercy before, but only as a dental student, where he helped with screenings and cleanings. When he arrived in Jamaica, his services as an endodontist were needed immediately. "Treasure Beach is grossly underserved," he said. "People came from all over the island. So many people were in line that street vendors started to show up."

Dr. Seung and his two colleagues were in Jamaica from March 19-26, and in that time they performed 39 root canals. In the three trips to Jamaica, the endodontists have performed a total of 123 root canals — saving more than 100 teeth.

Saving teeth is important to patients for a number of reasons, Dr. Morgan said. "A lost tooth has serious emotional, social and physical consequences," he said. "The opportunity to preserve a tooth with root canal treatment often isn't an option for patients who have limited access to care. Our teams are honored to be there to relieve pain, save teeth, save smiles and improve lives." A number of Jamaicans work in the hospitality industry, and having a full set of teeth is vital for them, he added.

For Dr. Seung, this mission trip will not be his last. "I was talking to a kid in pain, and he said he had been feeling it for years. He was able to get out of pain. He was so grateful."

Dr. Seung continued. "I still remember all the looks on the people's faces."

To learn more about the Foundation for Endodontics and the American Association of Endodontists, visit aae.org.

To learn more about international volunteerism and find a volunteer opportunity, visit the ADA Foundation's international volunteer website, internationalvolunteer.ADA.org.