Content Dam Diq En Articles 2015 03 Alliance For Smiles Bangladesh Mission Trip February 2015 Leftcolumn Article Thumbnailimage File

Alliance for Smiles Bangladesh Mission Trip, February 2015

March 28, 2015
Mary Jensen, RDH, describes her experience helping underserved children with cleft lips and cleft palates in Bangladesh.

"These trips are life-changing . . . for both the child and the volunteer."

Volunteering? Is it for you? If you are a dental professional, then the answer is YES!

I just returned from my ninth medical mission trip with Alliance for Smiles (AFS). AFS is a non-profit organization that provides free reconstructive surgery to children with cleft lips and cleft palates in Africa, China, the Philippines, and Bangladesh. Supported by donations and Rotary grants, AFS takes several full medical and dental teams on two-week mission trips. These trips are life-changing . . . for both the child and the volunteer.

Below: Before and after reconstructive surgery

My recent trip to Bangladesh began with over 30 hours of travel to Dhaka, the capital city. I am allowed two bags, one of which is all my dental supplies. The mission team volunteers gel as a unit instantly, despite the fact that we come from all over the world with a variety of backgrounds and specialties. Our dedicated mission director keeps us all focused and on-task. We truly become one synchronized unit. We are greatly assisted by the local Rotary group and excellent translators.

Below: Jensen with a boy who had undergone surgery, joined here by his mother and brother

The first day the team screens over 100 children. It is humbling to watch the parents as well as the children put so much trust in our work. Each child is weighed, measured, and photographed. Then they meet with a surgical team, which consists of a plastic surgeon, an anesthesiologist, and an OR nurse. After this they are examined by a pediatrician. Finally, the dental team—my team—does a screening. We primarily look for gross decay and abscesses. Every child receives a prophylaxis, oral hygiene instruction (for the entire family), fluoride varnish, sealants if needed, and basic nutritional counseling. Dental treatment must be done prior to the child's surgery . . . that's when it becomes "crunch time" to get the needed work done.

One of my favorite parts of these mission trips is the quick bond I feel with these kids. They and their families are so appreciative of the work being provided. I get to see the child before, sometimes during, and after their surgery. The results are amazing! In Bangladesh, the team treated 80 children on this two-week trip. The entire medical team sees the connection between the overall health of the child and their dental health. I am so proud to be a part of this organization.

The two weeks go by all too quickly. And while we have worked in challenging conditions (mosquito nets anyone?), I would not change it for anything.

I have had the good fortune of practicing dental hygiene on four continents and six countries. What have I learned? That people are the same all over the world. They want the same things . . . for their children to be happy and healthy, loved and respected.

Below: Jesnen with a grandmother, who moments before saw her grandaughter return from surgery

Alliance for Smiles has helped thousands of children and, in essence, has helped thousands of families. Curious? What to know more? Check out, volunteer, or make a donation! You won't regret it.