Sure life is random, but in its chaos, it has often shown me that it is prepping us for something else. Such a building block was revealed to me when I volunteered at Arizona’s Mission of Mercy (AzMOM).
This past December, ASDOH ASDA volunteered at AzMOM, Arizona’s largest dental charity event. Although I was registered to volunteer as an x-ray technician, fate had another plan. And, the reality of what it really means to be underserved made itself ever more present to me.
I was assigned to translate in American Sign Language (ASL) after a friend informed the Volunteer Lead at AzMOM I had experience. The year of ASL I took in undergrad at University of California, San Diego for fun hardly meant I was fluent or even proficient. Despite my hesitation, I was assigned to Hector (In order to protect the identity and privacy of the patient, his/her name has been changed). I was to stay with him for the duration of his treatment at AzMOM.
Despite being homeless and having slept overnight in shivering, 30 degree desert winds, he was upbeat, witty and smart. The day flew by with all the laughter we shared. Triage had him scheduled for five anterior extractions and a flipper. His teeth were black, decayed and grounded to nubs. They were so far gone he no longer felt any pain. But he was in pain from a fractured tooth in his lower left quadrant. Because he was deaf, he could not communicate this to examiners. Thankfully, through translating, working as a healthcare team, and the compassion of a volunteering dentist, Hector received the maximum amount of treatment possible at AzMOM. He endured ten carpals of anesthetic, eleven extractions (most of his teeth were broken root tips), and he was fitted for an upper partial. I walked away from volunteering at AzMOM feeling dumbfounded, humbled and grateful. I was not sure who was more thankful, Hector or myself. Hector reminded me of the luxury of being a hearing person and of a vulnerable population deserving of dignity, care and advocacy. He reinvigorated my commitment to become fluent in ASL so I can offer my services to both my community and future patients. I cannot imagine what it would be like to not be able to communicate if I was in pain. And, I do not want anyone to ever be in such a position.
AzMOM was held at the Arizona Fairgrounds in Phoenix and is sponsored by Central Arizona’s Dental Society Foundation. It serves as Arizona’s largest annual dental charity event. Services provided included cleanings, fillings, extractions and limited lab work in the form of stainless steel crowns, partials and flippers. More than 1,700 volunteers participated and 2,200+ people received treatment totaling more than a $1 million of free care.
~Mykel Anderson, Arizona ’17, Chapter Community Service Co-Chair
Dental students frequently participate in community outreach. For more on this topic, read the winter 2013 issue of Mouth. The issue features articles about domestic outreach versus trips abroad, virtual dental homes using cloud technology and more. Plus, 17 dental schools submitted photos and details about the domestic outreach done at their ASDA chapters. Click here to read the issue now.