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Our Experience With Volunteer Dentistry

Our experience with volunteer dentistry
by: Declan Devereux, DDS and David Matto, DMD

As we all know one of the biggest hurdles which keeps people from seeing the dentist is the cost involved. Certainly there are many people who have the resources to see the dentist but choose not to for numerous reasons. This article is not meant to address that group. Instead I will share our experience with treating the portion of the population who can't afford it.

Our first involvement with volunteer dentistry came through the "Give Back a Smile" program that was started by Dr. Wynn Okuda here in Hawaii. The program is part of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry and matches women who have had their teeth damaged as the result of domestic abuse with the volunteer dentists in their community. The program handles the screening and all preliminary arrangements as well as any lab work that may be needed for the case. We did our first case many years ago and it involved direct composite veneers to restore two fractured central incisors. I recall the patient had a job interview later that day and was so happy that she wouldn't be embarrassed about herself at the interview.

Our next involvement with volunteer dentistry came through Donated Dental Service which is a program of the National Foundation of Dentistry for the Handicapped (an ADA affiliate). This is a nationwide program with over 13,000 dentists and 3,000 labs. Hawaii dentists are extremely well represented in this program with over 90 dental volunteers. This program is for Hawaii's most vulnerable people; the disabled, elderly, or medically compromised who can't afford treatment nor get public aid. The patients we have seen through this program are uniformly appreciative and have a level of gratitude that is hard to describe.

Recently Dr. Bruno West and I gave a presentation to the students at the John Burns School of Medicine on how to "triage" a patients dental condition. We then went to the HOME clinic and saw several homeless patients who had various dental problems. This was an interesting volunteer opportunity because it allowed for a connection with Hawaii's future physicians and an opportunity to help the homeless at the same time.

Aside from our office's involvement in charitable dentistry I personally volunteer at the Aloha Medical Mission two Fridays a month. This clinic was brought to my attention by Dr. JoAnne Le through her friendship with my wife. The clinic is located at the Kalihi Palama Settlement and serves the needs of Hawaii's citizens who lack dental insurance. When I first started there I thought it would be too much as I go after finishing work at my own office every other Friday.

The amazing thing is that volunteering there has been revitalizing instead of draining. The staff there are so friendly to be around that my five year old daughter usually joins me because she has so much fun. By and large the patients there are a joy to work on and my daughter gets to experience the broad crossection of cultures that make up Hawaii.

These have been my experiences with volunteer dentistry in Hawaii but they are not unique.
I know without a doubt that ALL Hawaii dentists give so much back to their community through helping the needy within their own practices that it would boggle the mind to put a price tag on how much "charitable" dentistry actually occurs every day in Hawaii!

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