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Increase oral health gains by volunteering

Pre-session symposium explores importance of sustainable global programs

August 01, 2012

By Stacie Crozier, ADA News staff

Investing for long-term oral health gains: Dr. Christopher Holmgren, a presenter for the upcoming ADA Volunteer Symposium, trains dentists in Venezuela.
San Francisco—The ADA's 2012 Volunteer Symposium: Increase Oral Health Gains by Volunteering, will take participants beyond the nuts and bolts of international volunteering by emphasizing the importance of creating and supporting sustainable programs that will continue to serve people in need long after volunteers have returned home.

This 1-1/2-day Pre-Session program (course 3114) will be held at the Moscone Center Tuesday, Oct. 16, 5-10 p.m. and Wednesday, Oct. 17, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Participants can earn 12 hours of continuing education credit. The cost is $200, and includes a Tuesday evening reception and Wednesday breakfast and roundtable working lunch.

“It is interesting to see how the concept of international volunteering has changed over time,” said Dr. Christopher Holmgren, one of the course's speakers. Dr. Holmgren is former dental educator at the University of Hong Kong and visiting professor at the Department of Global Oral Health, Radboud University in the Netherlands and is currently a consultant to Aide Odontologique Internationale in Paris. “Traditionally, dental professionals flew to a far-off country for a couple of weeks, extracted teeth under less than optimal conditions, provided toothbrushes and toothpaste to patients. It benefitted a few fortunate people who needed care, but in the long term, it did little to contribute to overall long-term oral health.”

International health experts, seasoned volunteers and development organizations, he added, have been shifting their focus by emphasizing the importance of creating sustainable solutions by working in partnership with communities and local health providers to develop appropriate and effective programs that align with the host country's existing needs and health care strategies.

“This approach is far more rewarding and satisfying for volunteers because they know that their time and efforts will make a real contribution to oral health for years to come,” Dr. Holmgren said. “I'm excited about participating in this year's symposium, which will include an overview of sustainable development projects, training in cross-cultural communications and implementing primary health programs using proven health promotion methods.”

“We are keen to make this symposium as practically relevant as possible,” said Dr. Habib Benzian, an expert in international dental public health and health policy development, and speaker for the symposium. “We will begin with a look at oral health problems and needs internationally and learn more about the global dimensions. Since volunteers will engage with local communities in many ways, it is essential to address ethical considerations and to strengthen cultural sensitivity and responsible involvement. Our participants will learn through volunteers' first-hand experiences how to make a sustainable contribution to improving oral health care within a local health system. We will also examine volunteer organizations, their structures and approaches as well as how the type of guidance they give to volunteers plays a crucial role. The symposium will also focus on the importance of evaluating interventions and offer practical advice on how to integrate evaluation and research into a volunteer program.”

The symposium will be limited to 50 participants. It is underwritten by a grant from the Academy of Dentistry International and presented by the ADA Division of Global Affairs through the ADA International Development Subcommittee. For more details or to register, visit