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Children abroad 'better off dentally' thanks to Global Dental Relief

Denver—For Dr. Jeff Marks, it was the peaceful culture and the friendships.

Image: Masks off: Dr. Mark Lisagor and a boy in Nepal pull down their masks for a smile.
Masks off: Dr. Mark Lisagor and a boy in Nepal pull down their masks for a smile.

For Dr. Mark Lisagor, it was the opportunity to meet other volunteers who believe in making a difference in the lives of those less fortunate.

For Jan Tevrizian, dental hygienist, it was significant, meaningful and thought provoking experience.
 
For all of them, it was the children.

These three are among the nearly 750 people who have volunteered with Global Dental Relief since its inception in 2000. The nonprofit charitable organization provides free dental care for impoverished children in Nepal, northern India, Guatemala and Vietnam.

Director Laurie Mathews founded Global Dental Relief after traveling with Dr. Andrew Holecek in remote areas of Tibet and Nepal as he helped relieve those with oral pain.

“The realization that hit me about the need and the state of pain that people live in without dental care was really profound,” Ms. Mathews said.

She thought about how she would want to approach the problem and decided to focus on children and added an education aspect to teach them about proper oral health care. She partnered with Dr. Holecek and Kim Troggio, who brought experience managing volunteer travel, to make this plan a reality. Volunteers with Global Dental Relief now visit schools, orphanages and villages, attempting to make the experience special, joyful and fun, Ms. Mathews said.

“These kids come in and their eyes are huge and they’re looking at all these people in masks with equipment, and they have the day off school, and it’s just a really fun environment,” Ms. Mathews said.

Each trip is led by two volunteers, one who is a dentist and one who is not. The dentist is in charge of the clinic, and the other person manages the volunteers, Ms. Mathews said.

Image: Thumbs up: Dr. Vic Bradford smiles with two children in India.
Thumbs up: Dr. Vic Bradford smiles with two children in India.

Each clinic has six or seven dental chairs with four or five dentists and two hygienists working, she said. Global Dental Relief also recruits nondental volunteers to help with other aspects of the trip. Children are given an exam, fluoride treatment a new toothbrush and brushing instructions.

Global Dental Relief pays for and provides all of the supplies and equipment but volunteers are responsible for paying for their travel. They can choose just to participate in the clinic or, for more money, add sightseeing to their trip.

Dr. Marks, who practices in Sammamish, Wash., has traveled to Nepal twice with Global Dental Relief and counts it among his favorite places to visit, finding reward in providing necessary services to children who lack access to quality health care.

“Hundreds of children walk through the doors of the school where we set up our dental clinic. They trust us and open their mouths gratefully in order to allow us to care for them. Cleanings, fillings and extractions are all free of charge for a population that can truly benefit from humanitarian relief,” Dr. Marks said. “I love these people and I always look forward to placing animal balloons in their hands and smiles on their faces. Their peaceful culture leaves a lasting impression, while friendships are made that last forever.”

Dr. Lisagor, a dentist from Camarillo, Calif., is a volunteer who leads trips to Nepal and India.

“My role with Global Dental Relief is to do everything I can possibly do to ensure that every volunteer, especially the first-timers, comes away feeling so good about their experience that they want to do it over and over again,” Dr. Lisagor said.

For the most part, he and the others have been successful. Global Dental Relief has a 60-70 percent rate of return for volunteers, Ms. Mathews said. Ms. Tevrizian plans to be part of that statistic after volunteering for the first time in India last year.

“I know each child left our clinic better off dentally than when they entered thanks to a very well organized clinic setup and a dozen of dental/nondental volunteers who checked their egos at the door, embraced a collective camaraderie and truly cared about these tiny strangers who were stoic, respectful and very thankful,” Ms. Tevrizian said.

Global Dental Relief is actively recruiting volunteers for trips through 2012. To learn more about Global Dental Relief and how to volunteer, visit the ADA International Volunteer Web page: http://internationalvolunteer.ada.org, www.globaldentalrelief.org, email kimt@globaldentalrelief.org or call 1-800-543-1171 or 1-303-858-8857. 

Image: Pearly whites all around: Dr. Jeff Marks poses with a group of children in Nepal.
Pearly whites all around: Dr. Jeff Marks poses with a group of children in Nepal.