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Serve abroad with Health Volunteers Overseas

March 05, 2018

By David Burger

First-year dental students in Haiti
Life’s beginnings: Dr. Richard Cohen, center, poses with first-year dental students in Haiti after what is called their “initiation party” in 2017.

Port-au-Prince, Haiti — Dr. Richard L. Cohen’s international volunteerism with Health Volunteers Overseas has turned into a family affair.

“My son preceded me working with Health Volunteers Overseas,” said Dr. Cohen, a South Bend, Indiana-based pediatric dentist. “In March of 2017, he volunteered in Bhutan to provide orthopedic training to the staff of a small hospital in the country’s capital city, Thimphu. His experience was so positive — he was assigned there for a month — I decided to look into volunteer opportunities for myself. Luckily, HVO was starting up a program in Haiti, a country I have had many experiences in and where I met the most caring, happy and resourceful people. I jumped at the opportunity to go to the capital city of Port-au-Prince and work with their dental school. My other son followed me to HVO when he went to Honduras as a member of the department of orthopedics at Brown University.”

Dr. Cohen volunteered in Haiti for different organizations over the years, but in October 2017 he went to the Caribbean country for the first time with Health Volunteers Overseas — a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve global health through education. After discussion and coordination with project director Dr. Jack Levine, Dr. Cohen traveled to Haiti to support Faculté d’Odontologie, Haiti’s only dental school, in its mission to graduate dentists who are able to work independently to serve the Haitian population.

“What is impressive about the HVO program and experience is that by teaching dental students, faculty and community dentists, I can pay it forward so that those dental professionals can then render better and more efficient dental care throughout their country,” Dr. Cohen said. “While there are many organizations providing one-on-one urgent care throughout Haiti, HVO is one of the only organizations that actually trains the trainer and exponentially increases access to care.”
Dr. Cohen’s mission was to teach the students and faculty about different ways to treat and prevent caries.

“My days at the dental school consisted of lecturing to students and meeting with different faculty members,” Dr. Cohen said. “All of the faculty members spoke English but I needed an interpreter when I spoke with students. I brought along several bottles of silver diamine fluoride. I lectured to both faculty and students about this product and the medical management of dental caries. Haiti seems like the perfect place to utilize this product and all were eager to start using SDF and making it part of their treatment options.”

Dr. Cohen also worked with the students when they went to an orphanage outside of Port-au-Prince and, with faculty oversight, examined the children’s teeth and then treated them with glass-ionomer cement. “Due to the heat and lack of everyday equipment and instruments American dentists are accustomed to, the technique was surprisingly arduous and exacting. The students, however, are now very well trained in getting the treatment delivered and completed.”

Dr. Cohen plans on returning to Haiti with Health Volunteers Overseas. “It is an old cliche, but you get more back from the experience than you give. Of course, for me, the choice would be to go back to Haiti. That is where I feel most needed and where I can do the most good for the most number of people.”

Health Volunteers Overseas, with its oral health program supported by the ADA Foundation, is seeking volunteers to serve one-week assignments in Haiti to provide clinical and didactic training to Faculté d’Odontologie students and conduct faculty development seminars.

Additionally, Health Volunteers Overseas is seeking volunteers to serve one- to two- week assignments for:

  • The National University of Laos in Vientiane, Laos. Volunteers will provide clinical training to the dental students and faculty at the university as well as local dentists in Vientiane.
  • Muhimbili University in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Volunteers will provide chairside instruction and lectures to undergraduate and post-graduate students, as well as continuing education to the faculty at Muhimbili University and assistance with revising the current curriculum.
  • Universidad Catolica in Managua, Nicaragua. Volunteers will assist the faculty with the development of specialty training programs. Both clinical and didactic training is needed in endodontics, oral and maxillofacial surgery, periodontics and prosthodontics.

To learn more and consider being a volunteer in Haiti or other countries through Health Volunteers Overseas, dentists are encouraged to visit For more information on international volunteer opportunities, visit the ADA Foundation’s International Volunteer website,