Dentists give back: Profiles in community service | American Dental Association

Dentists give back: Profiles in community service

Four dentists volunteer, help improve the oral health of their communities

Photo of ADA News Instagram

Video: Visit the ADA News' Instagram page, @theadanews, to watch an interview video with Drs. Peter Thomas, Reneida Reyes, LaTedra Collins and Chris Steven Villanueva. 

Dr. Peter Thomas
Dr. Thomas

Peter A. Thomas, D.M.D.

When Peter A. Thomas, D.M.D., retired from private practice in 2015, he didn’t want to leave dentistry — and the feeling that he was contributing toward the greater good — behind.

So Dr. Thomas volunteers one day a week in mentoring students from the University of New England’s College of Dental Medicine at the Tri-county Community Action Program public health clinic in Tamworth, New Hampshire.

Dr. Thomas typically spends his time with two students at a time, whether it’s helping them with clinical instruction on root canal therapy and oral surgery, or guiding them in having meaningful, collaborative relationships and communication with patients. 

“I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to mentor students,” Dr. Thomas said. “These are my goals with the students: strive for excellence in both diagnosis and treatment, communicate clearly and compassionately with both patients and team members, and be willing to tackle challenging cases. For me, it’s to model respect and humility to everyone. The license is just a starting point for the real education and the special opportunities dentistry offers to be of service and to connect with people in a special way.”

Dr. Thomas said that community service is just an extension of the commitment to others he experienced during his 44-year career.

“I believe that we are all family, and since I was encouraged by my parents to set my sights high and also have the intellect, heart and manual dexterity necessary for dentistry, I joyfully spread my blessings to the best of my ability,” he said.

Photo of Dr. Reyes

Tiny smiles:  Dr. Reneida Reyes examines a baby's smile during a 2017 Tiny Smiles event, a Give Kids A Smile program that provides free resources for health care professionals and educators to raise awareness about the oral health needs of children age 5 and younger.

Reneida Reyes, D.D.S.

When it comes to childhood caries, Reneida Reyes, D.D.S., always turns to the old saying: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

It’s the reason why the longtime Brooklyn, New York, pediatric dentist is passionate about providing oral health education — and not just to her patients and their parents.

“It’s very disheartening when a young child is subjected to aggressive treatments because parents may not have known about the correlation of feeding patterns and caries,” Dr. Reyes said.

In her spare time, Dr. Reyes volunteers throughout the year with Tiny Smiles, a Give Kids A Smile program that provides free resources for health care professionals and educators to raise awareness about the oral health needs of children age 5 and younger.

Dr. Reyes, a 1978 graduate of Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine, first became passionate about the program in 2014 when she was elected president of the ADA Foundation board of directors. She helped create resource materials for the program, including posters, and activity and informational sheets.

Today, Dr. Reyes continues to volunteer as a Tiny Smiles facilitator, making sure daycares, pediatricians, pediatric fellows, educators and nonprofits dedicated to children in New York receive those digital and printed resources. 

“They need to know there’s something between the lips and the tonsils that needs attention,” Dr. Reyes said. “That small investment in education will hopefully save families from expensive medical bills, and save that child from experiencing pain.”

To learn more about Tiny Smiles and to download educational resources, visit ADA.org.

Photo of LaTedra M. Collins, D.D.S., with children at Children’s Dental Health Month event

Community outreach: Dr. LaTedra M. Collins visits with two young community members during an event she organized in February 2020 with her local sheriff’s office for Children’s Dental Health Month. Photo courtesy of Wanda August.

LaTedra M. Collins, D.D.S.

LaTedra M. Collins, D.D.S., is passionate about bringing dental care to underserved communities.

As a 2019-20 participant in the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership, she founded Miles of Smiles, a dental nonprofit in Louisiana. With her organization, Dr. Collins partners with others in the community and participates in events where she provides oral health education, oral cancer screenings and preventive care.

“My idea came through my experiences on international mission trips and volunteering with dental organizations such as TeamSmile and Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures,” said Dr. Collins, a senior associate at Taylor Dental in Lake Charles, Louisiana. “In addition, because of poor access to care for underserved communities, I have a passion for mobile/portable dentistry.”

Miles of Smiles serves all populations but focuses on children. It is a partner of Well-Ahead Louisiana Seals Smiles, a school-based program aimed at improving children’s oral health across the state.

While it has been difficult to grow Miles of Smiles amid the COVID-19 pandemic and two hurricanes that struck southern Louisiana in 2020, Dr. Collins hopes to purchase a mobile dental unit in the future. For now, she brings her office equipment with her to community events.

Her goal is to help raise Louisiana’s Oral Health Report Card grade from a D, and she is happy to do her part.

“Spiritually guided, it is my purpose in life and brings me joy, something selfishness can’t do,” Dr. Collins said. “Serve and watch the world open up to you.”

Photo of Dr. Villanueva

Camaraderie: Dr. Chris Steven Villanueva, second from right, poses with his fellow volunteers in Jamaica.

Chris Steven Villanueva, D.M.D.

Chris Steven Villanueva, D.M.D., is the founder and CEO of MB2 Dental, a Dallas-based dental partnership organization with over 400 practice locations.

Before the pandemic, Dr. Villanueva and a team of MB2 doctor partners regularly visited Jamaica to provide care. They began by volunteering in local community centers but expanded to bringing their operatories over time. 

“It’s been a real joy to see the program develop to where it is today,” he said. “We have no shortage of volunteers. I also use these trips as an opportunity to teach the leadership team, specifically the nonclinical leadership, about the humility that comes with patient care. It’s important that everyone throughout the organization, including our executives, administrative staff and investors, understand the importance of patient care. Dentistry is a service field; we are there to serve the patients and everything else secondary. Making sure they understand this is a core value of our organization. These mission trips are a great way to have this unadulterated view of dentistry and experience everything that comes with patient care and everything we value.”

The trips are also a chance for the volunteers to see firsthand how much the patients appreciate receiving dental care. 

“Providing care for these patients, who’ve walked for hours on end, is just a different dynamic than most private practitioners experience in their day-to-day lives,” Dr. Villanueva said. “It’s refreshing and eye-opening and humbling at the same time. Our goal is to one day establish a permanent presence in Jamaica.”

Jamaica also holds sentimental meaning for Dr. Villanueva: it’s where he first met his wife, a physician, during one of her mission trips during medical school.

The mission trips were postponed in 2020 and 2021 because of COVID, but he hopes to return in 2022.