What wonderful gifts we all possess. Our trivial complaints pale in comparison to the hardships endured by so many others. Eliminating pain for even just a few transports us to another reality. How lucky we are to be able to "give back." Isn’t it incumbent on us all to try?
by Ronny Charin, RDH, BS
A mission trip to Fortaleza, on the coast of Brazil, June 1-9, 2007, the ocean lapping against a poverty-stricken "dentally challenged" populace, summoned a group of "privileged" dentists, dental students, assistants, aides, and one dental hygienist — me. I say "privileged" because, as Americans, we sometimes have no clue as to what a charmed life we have. The problems we face daily pale in comparison to those of other countries. This is my third mission trip, yet each trip inspires me to dig deeper, and share my skills with people who, in return, enrich me.
Teaching at NOVA Southeastern College of Dental Medicine in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., allows me the privilege of meeting and working with students and faculty who choose to donate their skills and time to others. Ten dental students, some of whom had only completed the didactic portion of their dental education, two local dentists, some wonderful, invaluable volunteers, one dental assistant, and myself, under the supervision of Dr. Erica Migliorati and Dr. Steve Bates from Oregon, were those who participated on this inspiring mission.
Many ask me why would anyone want to give up air conditioning, soft, cushy beds, and comfortable routines to endure hot, sweaty, buggy days of poor ergonomically administered dental treatment? One reason is when I listened to the words of a woman, with tears streaming down her face, while we were extracting a permanent molar, who said, "I am so happy! I know I will finally be out of pain." How often do we hear those sentiments uttered in our home offices?
We treated patients sitting on lawn chairs while we sat on buckets with flashlights in our hands. Sweat poured off our brows (sometimes onto the patients’ uncomplaining faces), while we frantically swatted flies away. The students were amazing — transforming from nervous, hesitant people on the first day, to eager practitioners just days later. Watching the doctors impart their years of experience with enthusiasm was an invaluable learning experience for the students. And what did I gain? I love throwing my expertise, garnered after years in the dental field, to those absorbing minds. Information I didn’t even know I had spewed forth from the hidden recesses of my mind. What a great feeling to hear words of gratitude from the dental students for illuminating previously unseen or undetected decay. And, of course, most rewarding is to be able to perform dental procedures and administer local anesthesia, which is illegal in the state of Florida. Sharing these gifts obliterated all negativities and squashed residual insecurities.
And, of course, there are the children. They are always the ones who touch us the most. Their faces are beautiful, but their mouths are a disaster. One mother informed us that whenever she fed her son, he would eat a few bites, then run from the house crying. His teeth hurt! He had a cavity in every single tooth. He was only 5 years old! If only we could get some fluoride and xylitol to these villages.
The hard-working days were rejuvenated by the cool evenings. On several evenings we were entertained by the children from the village. Other times we shopped in local areas serviced by hard-working craftspeople. Sometimes we could roam the expansive beaches if we were so inclined. Hearing the stories from the other participants is part of the joy for people like us — the caregivers.
So, to be called "angels from heaven" is an elevating feeling. Our presence gave the people hope. The Indian community that receives help from the government had overlooked them. One villager expressed the sentiment that we had "descended from heaven to help them, and that she felt a stab in her heart when we left." These heartfelt sentiments are what keeps me coming back to underdeveloped areas to try to do whatever I can to make life a little easier for them.
What wonderful gifts we all possess. What "blessed" lives we all lead. Our trivial complaints pale in comparison to the hardships endured by so many others. Eliminating pain for even just a few transports us to another reality. How lucky we are to be able to "give back." Isn’t it incumbent on us all to try?
As an addendum, after writing an article on a mission trip to the Amazon, I received quite a few responses from hygienists interested in donating their time and skills. Just recently, I received a call from a wonderful hygienist who was inspired by my trip. She is currently on her own discovery mission. Our lives are like huge floating triangles. When one of the triangles is touched, it in turn reacts with others. This is the continuum of life. We all help, learn from, and inspire each other. Let’s never stop!
About the Author
Ronny Charin, RDH, BS, can be contacted at [email protected].