I used to believe that I chose to become a dentist so I could give back. But on a recent charity trip to the Dominican Republic, I realized something even more powerful: that I get way more back when I give.
The Dominican Republic is a country where more than a third of the population live in poverty, and where 20 percent of the country live in extreme poverty. The poverty is attributed to many factors that have effected the country’s economy, natural crises and political unrest. As a result, many of the poverty-stricken survive with little to no access to quality health and dental care. Without our help, many of the patients I treated would have gone without treatment or would have stood in lines for many, many hours -- often days -- for sub-par care.
On this trip, I spent one week treating local Dominicans with simple to complex surgeries – everything from dental implant placement, sinus augmentations, bone regeneration and tooth extraction. The goal was to remove disease and place implants to both prevent further bone degeneration and improve quality of life. There is striking associations between oral health and overall health. And this prevention can have a significant impact on general health.
The joy I experienced meeting and treating these patients was incredible. Every single patient was extremely gracious. Moreover, I was inspired by local dental assistant and local community teams. They were incredibly attentive to both doctors and patients, dedicating their time and energy for free. Witnessing the incredible community at play in the Dominican Republic will stay with me for a long time. It reminds me of where I was raised. I grew up in a small community in Israel comprised of approximately 20 families. Each family played a different role in the community for the greater good. I witnessed that spirit of collaboration in the DR.
What else did I take away from this dental mission? That we all have the opportunity to make a difference. I figure the only way to get people involved is to share your experience and encourage them to do the same. So I encourage you. Pick your favorite charity - something that inspires you. And do it. Spend a morning helping out at your local animal shelter. Or feed the homeless. You’ll return stronger and happier.