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Aspen Dental takes mission trips to Mexico.

Smiles for all: What it means for hygienists to give back

Jan. 23, 2024
Aspen Dental offers a variety of volunteer opportunities for employees. This hygienist has taken part in several, and she loves to make a difference.

Hygienists have a valuable skill set that we use every day to help patients, whether that’s through cleanings, treatments, or oral health education. However, there are many potential patients who can’t access dental care due to barriers such as cost or education, and it can be difficult to identify the best ways to reach them.

Luckily, Aspen Dental makes giving back easy through its Healthy Mouth Movement. From the veteran-focused Day of Service to the Overseas Outreach Program, Aspen offers dental professionals many opportunities to give back so we can bring care to more people.

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We meet patients where they are

Whether a patient’s barrier to care is cost, lack of insurance, fear, education, or geographic location, we meet them where they are to provide the best possible care. For example, the TAG Oral Care Center in Chicago was established in 2022 to provide care at no cost to underserved Illinois residents. The 25,000-square-foot center is both a training and service facility, which provides everything from fillings and extractions to implants and restorative dentistry.

Also included in the Healthy Mouth Movement is Aspen’s annual Day of Service. Aspen Dental practices across the country open their doors to provide free dental care to veterans, who are often underserved when it comes to dentistry. Aspen Dental practices also select a veteran to receive an entire treatment plan, at no cost, to restore their oral health through the A Smile for Your Service initiative.

Finally, Aspen hygienists can take their skills abroad by participating in an Overseas Outreach Program to provide free care in countries in dire need of dentistry.

We impact patients on a global scale

I was fortunate to participate in last year’s Overseas Outreach trip to Akumal, Mexico. In a span of five busy days, our team provided 524 fluoride treatments, 63 extractions, and 501 cleanings.

While in Akumal, we visited a primary school where we educated the kids about their oral health. We discussed how to brush properly, what foods to eat or avoid for dental health, and how to take care of their mouths. We provided prophys, exams, and fluoride treatments to the kids and made sure to address all their dental concerns.

When one of the children in my chair was nervous, the entire class started chanting her name and cheering for her, which helped her feel much more comfortable. After she was finished, the class kept cheering for every child who sat in my chair so they would feel relaxed and happy. That is an experience I’ll never forget.

Traveling to Mexico to provide care to people who really need it was so empowering. I felt blessed to have that opportunity to give back, and it made me feel like I was making a difference in the community.

For more than half a decade, Aspen has been organizing trips like this one, providing care to thousands of underserved populations around the world. In January 2024, a team of 17 people, including five hygienists, will travel to bring much-needed dental care to communities in Ecuador.

We improve others’ lives and our own

Providing dental care is about much more than cleaning teeth. We can treat pain, offer education, and improve peoples’ lives. Dental health is an important part of overall health; after all, an unhealthy mouth can put a person at greater risk of other serious health issues.

When you think about just how important dental care is, it makes it harder to face the fact that millions of Americans, and people all over the world, have little to no access to dental care. Initiatives such as the TAG Oral Care Center, Day of Service, and Overseas Outreach Programs help us break down the barriers that separate people from optimal oral health.

When we work hard to bring better care to more people, we’re not just improving their lives; we’re also improving our own. I went into hygiene because caring for people and helping them achieve their dental care goals is my passion. Being able to live this passion by helping patients in need, whether they’re uninsured, underserved, or living in a different country, is incredibly rewarding and empowering, and gives me the motivation to provide the best possible care every day.

Giving back is a year-round mission

While the holiday season is a traditional time for giving, at Aspen, we give all year-round in many different ways. From seeing a veteran smile for the first time in years, to eliminating a child’s dental pain, we have incredible opportunities to make the world a better place, one patient at a time.

Megan Sadler, RDH, has been with Aspen Dental for six years. She started as a dental assistant in Indiana and Kentucky 2018, and returned as a hygienist in Massachusetts in 2021. Megan has always been passionate about outreach work and volunteers through Aspen. Going on the Overseas Outreach trip to Akumal, Mexico, led her to volunteer overseas with Global Dental Relief (GDR). She recently returned from Cambodia and will be joining GDR in India next year.