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Olympic Village dental clinic has U.S. connection

Beijing—Although the 2008 Olympic Games are in full swing, a dentist with American connections started working behind the scenes months ago to ensure that volunteer dentists in the Olympic village are comfortable treating and communicating with athletes from around the globe.

Dr. David Lee, a native of Taiwan who moved to California at age 10 and grew up in the U.S., has practiced in China for the past 10 years. He says his ability to speak six languages and his experience in treating diplomats in Beijing from around the world are among the reasons he was chosen to conduct multicultural training for 40 or so Chinese dentists who will staff the dental clinic in the Olympic Village.

"I was able to use my experience to help these dentists overcome language and cultural differences when communicating with athletes who need dental care," said Dr. Lee. "There can be lots of nuances, depending on what continent or socioeconomic class a patient comes from."

Organizers anticipate treating about 2,000 athletes from July 27 through the end of August—about 10 percent of all Olympic Village residents. Athletes can receive mouthguards custom-made on-site, digital panoramic X-rays and a wide range of general and specialized dental treatment at the six-chair, state-of-the-art dental clinic.

Volunteer dentists, most of whom are faculty from Beijing's two dental schools, have prepared months in advance for the Olympics.

Under tight security constraints, they needed to estimate what dental equipment, materials and supplies they would use and bring it in beforehand, since no trucks are allowed into the Olympic Village while athletes are in residence.

Dr. Lee says he doesn't have clearance to work in the clinic, but will be a cell phone call away if a communications problem arises.

"I can give the volunteers some backup, even if I can't be there," he said.

Dr. Lee says mobility is an important part of why he chose dentistry as a career.

"I'm so glad I'm a dentist," said the University of Maryland alumni. "I feel so welcome in China. I can go anywhere. I can be very mobile. I don't need a hospital to practice. I can be my own boss, be independent, whether I'm doing implants in Beijing or working in the villages affected by China's recent earthquake."

In fact, Dr. Lee was one of the first medical responders to head to the earthquake zone in May. He was part of a team of two dentists, a pharmacist and three physicians that went to the "B" zone, a region that suffered light casualties but heavy damage to infrastructure.

Dr. Lee has been raising money and plans to lead a dental team and nonmedical volunteers who speak the Sichuan dialect back to the earthquake zone in mid-September to provide free dental care for affected villages.

He is also the first U.S.-licensed dentist to receive a license to practice in China and established the first English-speaking dental study club in Beijing 6 years ago. His study club has hosted prominent U.S. practitioners and dental educators, including Dr. Lee's former professor Dr. Jon Suzuki, currently associate dean for Graduate Education and International Relations at Temple University Maurice H. Kornberg School of Dentistry.

"It is a great honor to welcome guests like Dr. Suzuki," said Dr. Lee. "Dentistry is in my blood and I love being able to reach out across geographic and cultural borders through my profession."

To learn more about international development initiatives, contact the ADA Center for International Development and Affairs at international@ada.org or toll-free, Ext. 2726.