Maintaining a vision for better oral health globally

When it comes to oral health, the division between the haves and the have nots in the world could not be any greater, particularly on World Oral Health Day, which was Sunday, March 20. Find out what Aspen Dental volunteers are doing about it.

Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2016 03 Wohd 1

“Life’s most urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

For a man who offered many great rhetorical questions to the American public, I feel as if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was quite literal with the question above. The urgency of his question is at an all-time high today; the world is split between the haves and the have-nots. When it comes to oral health, this division could not be any greater, particularly on World Oral Health Day, which was Sunday, March 20.

This year’s theme is, “Healthy mouth. Healthy body.” A healthy mouth and body is lost on billions of people around the globe, and it’s impacting our public health in many negative ways.

As the Director of Community Giving at Aspen Dental Management, Inc. (ADMI), I have the privilege of working with great doctors who lead Aspen Dental-branded practices to pursue philanthropic and humanitarian efforts across the United States and around the world.

They do this through the Healthy Movement, an organization-wide effort to provide free care to American veterans, and the Overseas Outreach Program, an initiative to go across continents to create smiles and deliver the message to people in need about the importance of oral health.

This need is spreading virally; the reality is that we have the capacity to help and give back like none other. Volunteering to provide free care and educating people about preventive care is a responsibility I have come to appreciate immensely, and it is my goal to encourage others to do so as well.

As I reflected on World Oral Health Day, my memories of our mission trips to Haiti, Nicaragua, and Honduras came back in an overwhelming way. While gratifying, it has only emboldened me and other Aspen Dental volunteers to go even further, literally, to places like Tanzania, where a contingent of 10 Aspen volunteers will visit this May.

Many people in Tanzania do not have access to adequate health care. For many years, the majority of health-care facilities were located in or near major urban centers. As a result, residents in rural communities had very limited access to medical care.

It’s quite common for Tanzanians living in rural areas to have had little, if any, exposure to the basic concepts and techniques of oral hygiene. The issue is exacerbated by the fact that Tanzania has relatively few dentists to provide care in these rural areas, meaning all communities have considerable dental issues that are either ignored or handled by untrained individuals. (Often a friend or family member will help extract a tooth.)

Our group of doctors, hygienists, and dental assistants will work at two clinics in the city of Arusha, where we will serve the Maasai communities. We will provide extractions, preventive dental procedures, and emergency care, as well as work with local dentists to improve the quality of care in the community. Not only will the assistance and knowledge of our team directly benefit a great number of people in need of care, but the presence of a group of visiting dental professionals will help raise the awareness about health and oral hygiene.

Helping those in need, or doing something for others as Dr. King would have said, is a tremendous feeling. It is exhilarating to give those less fortunate a smile, and more importantly, something to smile about. From a volunteer perspective, it’s amazing to see the interest these trips generate among my colleagues. Having the opportunity to participate in these missions is a blessing we will never forget. Moreover, having ADMI supporting our efforts is critical in being able to provide this great work. We care about giving back, and we care about creating opportunities to allow people to give back.

As we remember this year’s World Oral Health Day and make resolutions to offer dental care to the billions of people who need it, I hope all dentists around the US and the Western World will make an additional effort this year to answer life’s most urgent question and give back.

Chedly Shatzie Vincent, DMD, is the Director of Clinical Support and Community Giving at Aspen Dental Management, Inc. (ADMI), where she helps oversee the Overseas Outreach Program and the Healthy Mouth Movement.

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