LIVE, LAUGH, GIVE
Since 2012, I have dedicated my time to create healthy smiles on an international level. I combine my love for travel and my passion for helping others by providing free dental care around the world to children who have limited access to care. You can read more about my mission work below:
In 2016, I travelled to the Jordan with Flying Doctors of America on a 7 day mission to help deliver dental care to Syrian Refugees at the Zataari Camp. This camp is one of the largest refugee camps in the world, with an estimated population of 83000 refugees as of March 2015. It was first opened in July 2012 as a temporary settlement for Syrian refugees fleeing the Syrian Civil War and is gradually evolving into a permanent settlement.
As in many make-shift dental clinics, the conditions you work in are not the best. We boil our instruments to sterilize them. Patients were sitting on class room desks and chairs and leaving their head agains windowsills for support while we removed decayed teeth. Only extractions were performed (sometimes of teeth that could have been easily filled) because these patients did not have the resources to go to the dentist. While I have routinely treated patients with extractions and fillings on an international level, this was the first time that I saw patients with tempromandibular joint disorders – with pain in the muscles of the face, frequent headaches, inability to sleep. These patients’ psychological problems (the stress of fleeing their home) was manifesting itself physically. On the other hand, I was also able to witness first hand the resilience of the human spirit to conquer such stresses. People made due with what they had, regardless of the clothes they wore, the make-shift tents they had or the beaten shoes they wore. When we came to visit their homes, they welcomed us graciously, asked us if we wanted some water to drink and made us feel welcome in their home.
In 2015, I travelled to East Africa, a region which I hold dear to my heart. I grew up in Kenya and spent my formative years in Nairobi. Being witness to poverty and classism (we were not well off ourselves), my parents have always reinforced the idea of giving back. Going to Uganda with A Reason To Smile (ARTS) was one of the best experiences in my life because I had the opportunity to help deliver a baby – what an eye opening experience!
I worked along side other dentists in a make-shift plastic chair or bed that would act as a dental chair. Patients spit into hand held cups or into their handkerchiefs. There was no evacuation system for saliva. Taking out teeth is easy, but in Uganda they often do it without numbing the patient’s tooth first. It was interesting to see that the dental anxiety that people have in the West is no different from what our patients were going through in Uganda. I realized that as humans, regardless of our circumstances, we need some basic health care rights – one of which includes being able to have options to take our pain and away. We have now made a commitment to donate a portion of anesthetics to our dental partners in other countries – so they may treat their patients in a pain free state.
Cusco, Peru was my second time working with children needing cleft lip and palate therapy. I travelled with Medical Missions for Children. This was more of a hospital based program so we worked in sterile rooms with proper equipment. Cleft lip and palate, as in other areas, even in the west is stigmatized. Kids are made fun of because of their appearance, the appearance of their teeth and their voice (most patients with a cleft palate have a hyper nasal voice). This was a great experience for me as an orthodontist as I was able to practice my craft on infants and young children by making retainers and appliances that would help the jaws and teeth to develop and erupt properly.
In November 21015 I traveled to Chittagong, Bangladesh with Rotaplast International for my first experience as a cleft lip and palate dentist. In addition to these patients, we also so burn victims. Many of these patients were females who were assaulted by their husbands or in laws or cooking accidents. Shiru was one of the patients that was most memorable. She was burned by a cooking accident using kerosene at a young age but could not afford treatment. As a result, her skin contracted but her jaw continued to grow resulting in her inability to close her mouth properly. This led to decay of her the majority of the upper front teeth as they were not properly exposed to saliva. Plastic surgeons took a skin graft from Shiro’s hip and used it to release the tension around her skin. Shiro was able to close her mouth for the first time in 14 years! I helped to restore her teeth using fillings. The difference in her self esteem was amazing after the surgery – she smiled more! Check out the before and after photos of Shiru!
Micronesia is basically in the middle of nowhere somewhere in the west pacific. It consists of a group of islands. Chuuk, the most populous island in Micronesia only has one road. You cannot find much variety in fresh vegetables or fruits, with the exception of bread fruit – a staple in this area. I hosted a mobile dental clinic with Caring Hands to Mouth, an organization that runs out of Oregan. Chuuk is pretty low key – we were able to do a lot for the residents – including performing fillings and extractions. On this little island, where everyone wore flip flops and carried about their day with the sun shining on their back, I learned that you don’t need much to be happy in life – sometimes breadfruit is enough!
St. Marcos Honduras was my first mission in 2012. This is where I fell in love with international medical outreach programs. As soon as my plane landed in Toronto, I was already on the internet looking for more mission work to do. I teamed up with Cape Cares, a team out of Cape Cod, New England. There were both physicians and dentists on board but it had been approximately four years since I had done any type of extractions or fillings on a patient (remember I’m an orthodontist). I worked along side a great surgeon who taught me the ropes to extract teeth on a porch in the middle of nowhere in Honduras. Again, we didn’t have the luxury of dental chairs (neither did our patients). It was at least 30C – our patients were sweating and we were sweating, but we were able to provide them with much needed services. Some of our patients came to the clinic (a make shift community room) in their Sunday best, travelling more than four hours by foot. We showered with rain water in bathrooms without any lights – four walls made of shanty walls! It was fantastic!
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