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MyView: Philanthropy: the heart of dentistry

December 11, 2017

By Patsy Fujimoto, D.D.S.

Photo of Dr. Fujimoto
Patsy Fujimoto, D.D.S.
If I had to use one word to describe my experience with the ADA Foundation, it would be "convert." I write this because I will admit with great chagrin that I was always aware of the Foundation but never became involved or donated.

The first step to being a convert was my appointment to the Foundation's grant committee. After three years on the committee I have seen firsthand the effect of the monies granted to various recipients.

The most recent visible Foundation effort has been the emergency disaster grants awarded to victims of the devastation of three hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico and forest fires in California. To date, about more than $850,000 has been committed to this undertaking. This effort has been aided by the ADA Board of Trustees' generous donation of $250,000.

A collaborative fundraising effort has also included donations from individuals, dental societies and their foundations, and corporations, both for the general emergency disaster grants and also to provide more direct support to the University of Puerto Rico School of Dental Medicine.

In addition to the emergency disaster grants, this year the Foundation has provided program funding and facilitated in-kind product donations in the amount of about $2.5 million.

These include dental student scholarships, the Samuel D. Harris Fund and the Whiston Leadership Awards.

Having evaluated the applicants for the last three years for the E. "Bud" Tarrson Dental School Community Leadership Award and the Dr. Thomas J. Zwemer Award, I believe dentistry would be proud and gratified at the number and quality of the applicants for these awards. Both programs recognize and reward community service by dental students.

The committee also reviews applications for the Continuity of Care grants. These grants seek to expand the reach and access to care begun by the Give Kids A Smile efforts. And everyone is familiar with Give Kids A Smile, the iconic program that recently celebrated its 15th year and through which more than 5.5 million children have received oral health services since 2013.

Since the time I visited the ADA Foundation Volpe Research Center with the Foundation board, I have always felt that the Volpe Research is one of the unsung gems of dentistry. Volpe is unique in its quest to help wet-gloved dentists provide state-of-the-art treatment to their patients.

Far from being esoteric research, the Volpe Research Center's research revolves around real-life clinical issues. Located in Gaithersburg, Maryland, it has long been at the forefront of science seeking to advance the oral health of the public through basic and applied research on dental restorative materials and treatment therapies.

Finally, my time on the committee exposed me to the reality that many dentists and their spouses face when accidental injury, medical conditions, disability or advanced age saps their financial resources. The ADAF Relief Grant Program provides some financial relief in these situations. Through the program we are able to not only aid the community but also directly help members of our profession in their time of greatest need.

One would think that being on the grants committee would be enough to make a believer out of most people. I was able to see the full scope of the philanthropy and the reach of the Foundation. I read the stories and the grant applications. My final conversion moment came when I was appointed to the Foundation board and attended my first board meeting in December 2015. There I met the rest of the small but dedicated staff with their boundless enthusiasm and endless willingness to help both volunteers and the people that benefitted from the Foundation.

I also found my fellow board members were and are dedicated to philanthropy and service. I was sold. Two years into my term on the board, I believe even more strongly in the mission of the Foundation. Indeed the convert has become the zealot.

The question remains: Why should ADA members care about the Foundation? I hope by enumerating some of the work that is being done, that members can begin to see the value and worth of the Foundation.

At the last board meeting, it was stated that the Foundation is the heart of the ADA. The Foundation is who we are as dentists beyond the clinical skills and treatment we render to our patients. The Foundation is living and breathing proof that it's not all "drill, fill and bill" — a belief that many in the community and those in the legislative arena would like the public to accept.

I challenge ADA members to get involved, to learn more about what the Foundation has done and is doing. I believe in knowing about the Foundation one cannot help but begin to care and want to participate on some level. I know it worked for me. Will you join the Foundation staff and board as a convert to keep the heart of the Association alive and well?

Dr. Fujimoto is a member of the ADA Foundation Board of Directors, a general dentist practicing in Hilo, Hawaii, and a University of Hawaii at Manoa faculty member.