Bringing Smiles to Those in Need

Feb 07, 12 Bringing Smiles to Those in Need

Most people have heard of Doctors without Borders, an international charitable organization that provides free medical care and assistance for impoverished and war-devastated regions around the world. But less well known is a similar organization, Dentists without Borders, which exists to provide oral health services to areas without access to dental care – a problem that affects billions of people. But it’s far from the only international dental aid organization in operation. Numerous need-based groups provide services and supplies to the destitute around the globe, offering everything from free toothbrushes and fillings to partial dentures, orthodontics, and oral surgery. To the billions who will never have ready access to the kind of hygienic clinics Plano residents take for granted, these humanitarian programs are a source of incomparable mercy.

Today more dentists than ever before are choosing to participate in humanitarian missions to bring free dentistry to those without access to adequate care. Many of these volunteers begin their outreach work while still in dental school, establishing a track record of service that stays with them long after they’ve begun their practice.

Dr. Greg Williams, a dentist in Oregon, co-founded with a friend an organization dedicated to bringing dental care to those without access. So far, his team has visited Guatemala and Western Samoa, where he discovered the ratio of dentists to patients is about 1 to 40,000 (compared to about 1 to 1,500 in the U.S.). Williams and his co-founder, a prosthodontist, would love to provide bridgework, partial dentures, and other restorative services on their missions. But the vast numbers of people needing treatment limit their services to basic care – fillings, cleaning, and toothaches. Williams observes that an influx of unhealthy foods from first-world countries is causing the rate of tooth decay to rise, contributing to increased need for treatment.

Poor nutrition and a lack of access to clean water and living conditions – standard for destitute areas of the world – create dental woes for billions of people. The willingness of so many medical professionals to provide treatment, supplies, and education to those in need should give privileged Westerners pause. For Plano residents, it’s a minor thing to make an appointment for a crown or a fitting for partial dentures. For billions around the world who line up for hours for the chance of a bit of relief from a toothache, the generosity of these practitioners is no minor thing at all.

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