By Debbie Lewis
How many volunteers does it take to perform $1.4 million in dental services? Forty. Fourteen junior dental students, seven dentists, one periodontist, two oral surgeons, two orthodontists, three potential dental students, one spouse, two hygienists, one physician and seven support volunteers.
The team spent five days in Hinche, Haiti and treated more than 1,700 patients. Drs. James Whitesell and Kenneth McMillan, faculty members of The Dental College of Georgia (DCG,) have planned mission trips to Mexico and Haiti for the past 18 years. This is the third year that DCG students have accompanied the pair and other dentists to Haiti, where dental treatment is virtually non-existent for some of the country’s residents.
“They were some of the best patients I’ve treated so far,” said Gabrielle Going, a rising senior participating in her first dental mission trip. “A lot of them had pretty bad infections and we couldn’t get them completely numb to extract a tooth and they wouldn’t even flinch.”
Upon arrival at Port Au Prince, the group boarded buses for the three-hour journey to Hinche, located on the central plateau of Haiti, to work at two locations during the week. At the Notre Dame School at Kobonal, students worked with approximately 1,000 children, teaching them home care and painting fluoride varnish onto the tooth to prevent tooth decay. When necessary, they applied silver diamine fluoride, a formula painted on large carious lesions to help arrest the progression of decay.
The second facility the students and dentists rotated through was the Whitney Clinic at Sacre Coeur church, sponsored by Saint Monica Catholic Church in Duluth, Georgia. There, students worked one-on-one with dentists rebuilding anterior teeth with composite resin or removing hopelessly infected teeth to eliminate chronic pain.
The students had rich experiences outside of the hands-on work during the day. One night, during their stay in the village, the students learned techniques and strategies in a suturing clinic put on by the oral surgeons. Another night, the female students and providers met separately to discuss concerns particular to women in dentistry. Going found it helpful to learn how she can have a successful career while being present in her children’s lives, when the time comes.
“This experience made me realize how happy I am that I picked a profession where I can serve people every day,” Going said. “That will give me a true purpose in life. I also hope to continue going on these mission trips abroad annually or every couple of years. I’m hooked!”