Dental Volunteerism Abroad

By Dr. Sean Benson

 

After the New Year holiday passes, and the cold and snow are permanent residents in Baker City, I start to focus on a warm tropical climate. Before you think I am describing some time off with relaxation at a luxurious resort I should clarify that the warm tropical climate is in Honduras, and it is hot, muggy, and malaria ridden. I start to think about if my typhoid, hepatitis, tetanus vaccinations are up date. Reminding myself to start taking my doxycline for malaria prohylaxis the few days before we hit San Pedro Sula. Double and triple checking my supply list. Do I have enough anesthetic, antibiotics, and analgesics? Do I have all my instruments, and disposable supplies. Will they all make it through customs? As you read this your first thought might be why?

I started to going to Honduras because of my good friend Jon Schott, MD. He had been going for several years and he had been providing basic medical care. He was frustrated by his lack of ability to treat emergent dental infection beyond antibiotic intervention. He believed almost all of the people he was treating needed some kind of basic dental intervention, and most had been suffering from an unchecked, and untreated dental infection for years. For several years I listened, empathized,  but was unsure if I could help. How would I provide care in the remote settings, and poor conditions that I had seen in pictures, and heard about in stories?

 

 

I enlisted the help of dentists who had done this type of thing in other countries, and came up with a plan. Dr. Weston Herringer Jr. was my mentor. He had been everywhere, and had done several trips to various countries. I borrowed, begged, and cajoled colleagues, dental supply companies, and honorary organizations. The first trip was hard, and tiring, and had its share of technical, and logistical problems…but was one of the most emotional rewarding experiences I had in long time. I was hooked.

 

 

These trips have become a part of my year. A chance to put things in perspective for myself, and take time to realize how truly fortunate I am.  I know everybody who volunteers says this, but it is true. The purity of doing volunteer dentistry is a recharge to myself professionally, and keeps me coming back for more.

I encourage everyone to volunteer for the profession in some capacity. Where, and how do not matter as much as the doing. The rewards will benefit the patient, the profession, and yourself, and provide unforgettable memories, and experiences that will make your time in practice complete.

 

Sean A Benson, DDS, graduated with his Doctorate of Dental Surgery from Ohio State University in 1998.  He currently is practices in Baker City and is an active member of the ODA, ADA and OHSU. In addition to volunteering his time abroad, Dr. Benson helps out with Northwest Medical Teams, Donated Dental Services, Give Kids a Smile Volunteer Day and is an Eastern Oregon Red Cross Advisory Board member.

 

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