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Summer Dental Volunteering

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The last blog post that I wrote was about the ethics of dental volunteering. At the time, I may have been on the side that says that most of these dental volunteering programs abroad are unethical simply for the fact that there are no long-term solutions in place in case one of the patients needs follow up.  Well, over the summer and fall of this past year, I went to Africa with a small nonprofit organization and experienced firsthand what it was like to treat and give care to some people who don’t regularly or rarely ever get it. This experience changed my thinking about how I felt about dental volunteering programs.

Over the summer of 2016, I decided to go to some small villages in Cameroon called Nkookomb and Ibong. Both of those villages are small and are within 20 miles of each other. They have a combined population of about 1000 people. There’s only one medical center(Presbyterian medical center) within a fifty mile radius. This medical center has no doctors. A nurse is the one who oversees everything in the village. As far as dentists go, there is only one dentist or dental center within a 150 mile radius. So obviously dental care is sorely needed. I volunteered with a small not for profit organization to teach the nurse at the medical center, how to teach her patients about the importance of oral health. Donated some toothbrushes and toothpastes and taught them how to brush and floss.

Overall, the experience was one of the best experiences that I have ever had. The reason my mind was changed about the whole ethical issues of dental volunteering, is because I noticed that all the people living in this area didn’t have a single toothbrush or anything. I asked them how they usually took care of their oral care, the majority replied that they never brush or had any dental care. They don’t believe dental health is important. The few who said they brush occasionally, said they used a stick and salt to brush their teeth. I asked them why they use salt and why not use toothpaste? The answer they gave me was that toothpaste is too expensive and they have other issues that could be resolved with their money and the reason they use salt is because it is grainy enough to brush or scratch the surface of the teeth. What I realized was that as much as I didn’t think it was ethical to do any dentistry work on a person if they don’t have a way to follow up in case of emergency, it’s better to at least do something to take care of their immediate needs. As long as it meets the standard of care that is expected of us dentists, I think it is good to help people who need dental care.