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A decade of bringing smiles to Jamaica

March 05, 2012

By Stacie Crozier, ADA News staff

Oakland, Calif.—Now in its 10th year, the 1000 Smiles Dental Project has created a lot more than 1000 smiles.

More than 37,000 rural Jamaicans from 90 communities have received treatment—including some 27,500 extractions, 10,000 cleanings, 18,500 fillings and 12,500 sealants. In addition, the program has provided oral health education to more than 65,000 children.

1000 Smiles: Dr. Sue-Min Mak, above, takes a moment to relax with students at the Priory Primary and Infant School in St. Ann’s Bay Ocho Rios during an oral health education visit with the 1000 Smiles Dental Project.

“The project is moving from service to sustainability,” said Dr. Jack Levine, a general dentist in New Haven, Conn., and 1000 Smiles volunteer for eight years.

“In the last three years, the project has added sealant, fluoride and school based programs to direct care services. 1000 Smiles is also working with the University of Technology, Jamaica, and Jamaican nurses so that the services will be there when we leave. I feel like I’ve done something that not only makes a difference and changes lives, but will stay there when I go.”

The program, developed through a collaboration between the Oakland, Calif.-based charity Great Shape Inc., Sandals Resorts International and the Jamaican Ministry of Health, provides free dental care and education in rural schools and health clinics to some 15,000 people in Jamaica every year. The project enlists the help of more than 200 volunteers who provide care in areas that have one dentist for every 100,000 people. In the past decade, roughly 1,600 volunteers have reached out to those in need.

“To be able to go to a country where they don’t have enough access to dental care and make a difference is very exciting,” said Dr. Sherwin Shinn, a general dentist in Tacoma, Wash., and a 1000 Smiles volunteer for four years. “Even more so, to see the local people of Jamaica buying into this is fantastic. In Jamaica, because of the attitude of the people, the project is really making a difference. Seeing that people are getting better and that this could be sustainable by the Jamaicans is wonderful.”

1000 Smiles: Dental hygienists Kerrie Ransome, left, and Sally Jo Walker provide a dental cleaning during a mission in November 2011 in Ocho Rios.

1000 Smiles makes it easy for new volunteers to embark on an international dental mission, said Dr. Sue-Min Mak, a general dentist in San Francisco who has volunteered for two years.

“Not everybody is ready to jump on a plane and be ready to be out in the field saving lives in rugged terrain and uncertain political climates,” Dr. Mak said. “The 1000 Smiles project is safe and well organized and open to all volunteers, young and old. Lots of volunteers bring their spouses and families. This project makes humanitarian work very accessible.”

Volunteers pay a tax-deductible program fee of $700 and their airfare to Jamaica, and they receive free housing, food and ground transport from Sandals. Volunteers are also asked to buy or solicit donations for all supplies needed to serve 75 patients per week.

“I love volunteering. Traveling is a passion of mine, and I love getting immersed in new cultures and making new friends and acquaintances,” said Dr. Mariam Khateeb, a pediatric dentist in Woodbridge, Va. “Great Shape offered all of that to me and more.”

This fall the project will serve areas near Ocho Rios, Montego Bay and Whitehouse. One- and two-week missions are available.

Program dates are Sept. 14-23 and Sept. 22-Oct. 1 in Ocho Rios; Oct. 12-21 and 20-29 in Montego Bay; and Nov. 2-11 and 10-19 in Whitehouse.

For more information, visit or call 1-510-893-1751.

To learn more about international volunteer opportunities, call the ADA Division of Global Affairs at 1-312-440-2726, email or visit the website