For nearly 4 decades, dental students come with 'T. Bob' on spring breaks to serve underserved
April 10, 2017
San Raymundo, Guatemala
Hugging line: Dental students, from left, Chris Shin, Megan Luna, Abigail Livesay, Blake Hamblin and Raven Grant receive thanks from local students in San Raymundo, Guatemala, for treating them with dental care on a humanitarian trip in March.
— Dallas general dentist Dr. T. Bob Davis has a saying: “Do what you can while you still can.”
It’s a philosophy that has spurred Dr. Davis — known as “T. Bob” — to bring more than 1,500 dental students, and about 500 dentists, to Latin America over the past 36 years on dental humanitarian missions.
The tradition continued this year, as Dr. Davis has just returned from a late March trip to Guatemala accompanied by 50 dental students — 21 from Texas A&M University College of Dentistry and 29 from The University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston. Along with 16 dentists recruited by Dr. Davis, the large contingent treated 820 people in the impoverished region of San Raymundo, delivering more than $329,00 worth of dental care.
Dr. Davis, president of Academy of Dentistry International, said the trip over the students’ spring break was “probably the best trip ever in most every respect.” This is his sixth annual trip to Guatemala after years in Mexico and Nicaragua, and he said sustainability in his beloved San Raymundo is what inspired him to come back year after year. While the need for dentistry is still deep in this southern area, it brings Dr. Davis joy to see returning patients who now require simple cleanings rather than root canals.
“It was unbelievable,” said Brady Atkins, a fourth-year dental student at UT-Houston who went with Dr. Davis on the spring break trip for the fourth time. It was great to see children without cavities, Mr. Atkins said.
All together now: With Dr. T. Bob Davis seated in front, locals, dentists, hygienists, dental and hygiene students, dental assistants and interpreters pose for a group photo in between soccer games in San Raymundo, Guatemala, in March.
John Ratliff, a second-year dental student at Texas A&M, also went to Guatemala in March, his second time with Dr. Davis. “My learning can make a difference in changing people’s lives,” he said. “You see everything you see in school, in practice.”
Dr. Davis’ trips are annual rites of passage among many Texas A&M and UT-Houston dental students, who gravitate toward the trips in part because of Dr. Davis’ longtime ties to the Christian Dental Society. “The trips are a testament to people buying into T. Bob’s message,” Mr. Ratliff said. “He says, ‘Take a leap of faith and be of service to others.’”
Mr. Ratliff — who decided to become a dentist after years hanging out at his friend’s mother’s dental office, seeing people in pain transformed — said he was initially skeptical about the Guatemala trip, despite scores of dental students singing Dr. Davis’ praises. “I said, ‘Raymundo, where is that?’” Mr. Ratliff recalled. “I was a little nervous, but Dr. Davis is so organized and the dentists are so inspirational with their commitment to impacting the youth.”
Vital assistance: First-year dental student Dorothy Hino and Dr. Rachel Sells treat a young patient in a Guatemala operatory during their humanitarian trip to the Central American country in March.
Dr. Davis keeps students busy, having them serve from sunup to sundown in the clinic he established in San Raymundo. But they love it. Sometimes, he said, dinners were postponed because he couldn’t get the students to leave. But he also schedules time for worship services and fun team-building exercises, such as soccer games with locals and students.
Dr. Davis first went on a dental mission four decades ago, when his wife signed him up for one after hearing a missionary in church talk about his experiences. He became hooked immediately, and it took him only five years before he started taking dental students with him.
“They get a sense of who they’re becoming,” Dr. Davis said of the students. “They share their heart, their love for people. They come here with a purpose in mind.”
“Wanting to serve people and making a tangible difference immediately is what drew me to dentistry,” said Mr. Atkins. During his trips, he saw so many people helping others, and knew “that it was what I wanted to do. These are folks I wanted to emulate.”
For more information about the Academy of Dentistry International visit adint.org
To learn more about international volunteerism and find an opportunity, visit the ADA Foundation's international volunteer website internationalvolunteer.ADA.org