I think it’s safe to say that one of the overwhelming responses to the question, “why dentistry?” would include something as generic as “I want to serve and make an impact in the lives of others.” That’s certainly one of my answers, among others. For me and for several of my peers the chance to use our skills in our own communities and around the world to serve those who need and appreciate it the most is one of the biggest draws to this profession. It’s not often, though, that predentals get to delve into exactly what philanthropy is like as a future dentist. Removed from the shiny, state of the art dental practices and often times elective or cosmetic procedures that we’re accustomed to, I was able to witness what the heart of dentistry is really about.
This past spring break, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Panama through International Service Learning with seven other members of Baylor University’s predental organization and one pre-optometry student from Ohio State. I’d argue with anyone that this was leaps and bounds better than your typical college spring break on the beaches of Florida or Cancun. If you have the chance to do a service trip during college, GO.
The first day of the trip was dedicated to a crash course in dental Spanish and learning what our role would be in the clinic. The local dentist we were working with explained to us that their dental school education is five years – total! No undergrad, no entrance exam. If they only knew how many obstacles we face here in the states with our GPA, DAT and receiving a coveted acceptance letter after years of challenging undergrad courses.
Before starting up the clinic, we spent a day walking around the surrounding villages doing house visits and conducting dental health surveys. Our clinic focused on ages 4-13, so we each took turns asking the kids questions in Spanish. For example, we asked if they brushed their teeth or had been to the dentist before. Several answered ‘no’ to every question. Each home, full of joyful children, challenged our perspectives. I thought about how I would react in their situation to a group of wealthy American college kids in scrubs wanting to come in to my tiny, dirt-floored home and ask me questions about my lack of dental care. We were not turned away by any Panamanian family, and we could tell that they were already grateful for the work we were going to be doing during the week. The thought that I would be a part of some of these kids’ first experience with dentistry was a huge responsibility that seemed nerve-racking but also a chance to show them that it didn’t have to be a scary thing. I would soon have to calm the fears of only Spanish-speaking four year olds. No big deal, right?
We were so excited for the first day of clinic. We set up all the equipment in a small room of a local church and immediately entered business mode. Even if the kids had several cavities, most only received one or two fillings or extractions due to limits on time and resources. Seeing 8 year olds with multiple decayed teeth because they lacked the funds or access to dental check-ups and preventative oral care was very eye opening. We would stay with our patient as they went to the chair for their procedure and were responsible for setting up the tray with the appropriate instruments and materials. We also assisted when needed. There were ample criers and squirmers because of the needle or drill. They were still so sweet and their parents would be extremely appreciative of the care we provided them. At the end of each day, knowing all the joy we were able to share through cleaning teeth and providing preventative treatment for free solidified why I want to do this with my life. A smile is the same in any language.
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill
~Jessie Price, Baylor University ’15, Predental
According to ASDA’s B-8 policy, predental members must follow the ADA Code of Ethics and be supervised by a licensed dentist while on outreach trips. Click here to reference the policy before you go on a trip. If you’re a predental and haven’t joined ASDA yet, now is the time! You’ll have access to valuable member benefits including ASDA’s print publications, discounts on Crack the DAT and Chad’s Videos and more. Most importantly, you’ll belong to the largest student run dental organization in the United States. Join us today by clicking the button below!
About Jessie Price
Jessie is a senior at Baylor University studying biology, business, and religion. She is actively involved with her predental club, having previously served on its executive board, and is applying to dental schools this cycle. Jessie is an avid foodie, blogger, science nerd, fitness enthusiast, concertgoer, coffee connoisseur, and can usually be found taking yet another artsy photo of her cooking for Instagram.