Building student involvement, fostering civic engagement and enhancing community service to advance public health. 

imgresLast month I had the opportunity to travel to Jamaica for the second time on a dental outreach program. My first trip was five years ago, while a pre-dental student in college. Returning to Jamaica, this year, I was once again charmed by the Jamaican people, and their “no problem” attitude. The outreach was incredible. It was a real life experience that brought together aspects of basic sciences, clinical expertise and global outreach. It was not uncommon to have an adult patient who was diabetic or had high blood pressure; thus, we utilized our medical team and our understanding of medical issues to clear these patients for treatment. Our background in global outreach and knowledge from the GSL course helped us understand the culture, while our skills in providing anesthesia and hygiene were put to the test.

            Each day we travelled to new sites deep in the mountains of Jamaica. Most of the bus rides were between 2 and 3 hours. This allowed the team to come up with a plan on the way there and conversely, reflect and share stories on the way back to our hotel. Two of the days we set up our clinics in churches. These communities were known as feeder communities, to which people walked up to 30 miles to be seen. The majority of those patients were adults. The other sites that we visited were elementary schools where we saw all of the children attending those schools along with the adults in the community. Most of these areas were farming towns where the local people grew sugar cane, coffee and different spices. Interestingly, in these rural areas, it was not poverty that provided a barrier to healthcare, but rather, they just had no access to medical or dental care. I spoke to several townspeople who told me that if anyone had a toothache in their town they would pull the tooth themselves. Having heard that, I knew that our efforts were going to be appreciated.

            The lack of language barrier allowed us to interact and relate to our patients. I was able to talk to them about their lives, their daily routines, and their oral healthcare knowledge. As a second year student, a lot of my responsibility included cleanings and oral health promotion. I saw extreme periodontitis that exceeded the extreme examples we had been shown in class. There were walls of calculus which provided the only attachment to compromised teeth. In our makeshift hygiene clinic, we did whatever we could to remove as much calculus and plaque as possible. Most of these patients had never seen dental floss. We were able to show them how to use floss and send each patient home with their own pack. I found it very interesting to see how much they loved the Listerine mouthwash. As much as the children loved the stickers and bracelets that we gave out, the adults LOVED the mouthwash.

Dentistry is a special profession in which we are able to promote health, relieve pain, educate and restore people’s quality of life. And that’s why Global Outreach is so very special. We are able to provide this valuable care to people who otherwise would be neglected. On my first trip to Jamaica, a young boy told me that he hoped to become a dentist. I looked for this guy everywhere we went. Though I couldn’t find him, I hope he continues to pursue this dream. As much as we are uplifted by our volunteer work in Jamaica, nothing would make me happier than seeing the local people receive regular sustainable health care.”