A Big Task Met With Big Hearts

Jan. 1, 2008
The profession of dental hygiene allows us to surround ourselves with amazing people.

by Lory Laughter, RDH, BS

The profession of dental hygiene allows us to surround ourselves with amazing people. Dental-related companies quietly give to charities, and compassionate individuals go out of their way to make life easier for those in need. With all the negativity dragging our careers into an uncertain future, it helps to focus on the positive things we can do in spite of the powers that would see us abolished.

A few months ago, a public health worker asked about taking fluoride varnish on a mission to Africa. A team from Twin Cities Church in Grass Valley, Calif., goes to Uganda twice a year and had read about the product in newsletters and guides available to public health clinics. After checking into the legal aspects of delivering fluoride in a foreign country, we set out to find a supplier. I only had to make one phone call and the order was filled. Premier Dental donated enough Enamel Pro® Varnish for every child in the orphanage. I know the same outcome might have come from many other dental companies, but the unwavering answer of “Yes, how can we help?” was greatly appreciated by the mission team members.

Team member Alice Litton took on the responsibility of transporting the fluoride varnish to Uganda and even took online courses on proper application prior to the trip. Ms. Litton reports, “Although we had taken brushes and toothpaste on previous trips, this was the first trip that we included floss and fluoride varnish.”

Sixty-one children and nine staff members received fluoride varnish treatments, and the team members believe even more can be accomplished on future visits. Litton says, “There was great interest and excitement regarding the flossing and fluoride, and we easily could have treated 500 children within El Shaddai Church’s circle of influence.”

The team members made sure this was more than just a fluoride application for the children. They began the effort with dental education regarding proper brushing and flossing techniques. Each child was given a new toothbrush, tube of toothpaste, and a small container of floss. The message was delivered in English and Lugandan, for those children whose English is still shaky. They were then sent off to brush and floss.

Two days later, the team presented a skit in which four children dressed in pillowcases representing teeth. Food particles were attached with Velcro® to the pillowcases. Instructors showed the audience how to floss the “teeth” with a large nylon rope representing the floss. The children thoroughly enjoyed the flossing demonstration and soon took over the teaching. Adult staff members were involved in all the steps to ensure that they would be able to reinforce the lessons the children learned.

These children have never visited a dentist, yet their teeth are in remarkably great shape, according to the volunteers. Their diet is primarily maize, beans, rice, greens, sweet potatoes, bananas, and occasionally sugar cane. The flavoring of the fluoride varnish was a bit of a mystery to the children, because none of them had ever experienced bubble gum. Obvious cavities and broken teeth were noted, and efforts are being made to have a local dentist visit the orphanage to provide needed care. What a marvelous outcome on behalf of the orphanage children thanks to Alice Litton, the mission team members, and Premier Dental.

You don’t have to look far to find other dental companies doing their part to help. Hu-Friedy donates one dollar from every Y-ME curette and two dollars for every Y-ME ultrasonic insert sold to the Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization. The organization provides services to those touched by breast cancer, and Hu-Friedy has pledged its ongoing support through sustained contributions and participation in fund-raising events. The company also supports dental professionals by donating instruments to those engaged in dental mission work or setting up dental clinics geared to meet the needs of underserved populations.

In my own experience, Sunstar Americas, Inc., has donated toothbrushes and even funds to projects aimed at educating children on the importance of healthy dental habits. Colgate and Crest have donated toothpaste by the cases to similar efforts. Most of us could quickly recite our own lists of generous companies within the dental realm. Ours is not a stingy profession.

This giving spirit is not limited to large corporations. Patients from the office where I practice donate hundreds of pounds of food each year to a local woman’s shelter. The food items are dropped off at the office and then delivered to the facility once a week during the months of November and December. Another dental office in Napa holds fund-raisers to assist community members touched by tragedy. This is not merely a yearly event; the team members at this particular office will organize and pull off an amazing event every time one is needed.

After Hurricane Katrina, dental hygienists from Amy’s list at AmyRDH.com quickly donated and set up a fund for list members in the ravaged areas. “Listers” send letters and packages to military men and women serving overseas and are especially kind to those soldiers who have no family back home. The hygienists and students on Amy’s list do not let each other tackle life’s scary moments alone. Every injury, surgery, divorce, and family crisis is met with cards, loving thoughts, and even money. We share more laughs than tears, but knowing there are more than 3,600 people ready to come to your aid is a comforting feeling.

From conversations with my mentors and colleagues, it appears we often take more notice of the negative aspects of our profession. No continuing-education event or local component meeting is complete without a discussion about the attack on our careers by those outside of dental hygiene, and I am as guilty of complaining as anyone else. I’m not suggesting we overlook the obvious attempts to degrade our education and pass along our careers to individuals “trained on the job.” These realities are not going away and will require our full attention for years to come. Perhaps it will rejuvenate our energy and rekindle our fire to fight if we each take just one moment and start 2008 with a reflection on all of the positive effects dentistry has on the world.

We are about more than just mouths. We are about serving the health needs of our entire world population — a big task met by individuals and companies with big hearts.

About the Author

Lory Laughter, RDH, BS, practices in Napa and Sonoma, Calif., in both general and periodontal offices. She is a partner of Dental IQ, a team committed to arranging quality continuing-education opportunities for Northern California. Through her involvement with Dental Hygienists Against Heart Disease and other organizations, she hopes to bring a total health concept to the dental practice. You may contact Lory at [email protected].