I recently returned from an incredible dental mission trip to the Dominican Republic. My team and I, about 20 general dentists and surgeons in all, offered free dental care to extremely needy patients living there. We specialized in dental implant surgeries, which restore biting function and can make a radical difference in a patient’s quality of life.
This charity mission was headed by Dr. Arun Garg from Implant Seminars, a dental mentorship program that sends different groups of dentists to the Dominican Republic 5 to 6 times a year. I signed up for Dr. Garg’s advanced post-graduate dental education classes toward the end of 2015.
It was then that I learned of his upcoming mission trip to the Domincan Republic, and I knew I had to go along. I knew I wanted to learn more about the dental work behind dental implant surgeries, but by the end of the trip, I was astounded by the impact we could make among the wonderful citizens there.
Our Arrival in Santo Domingo
When my group landed in the capital, Santo Domingo, we were overwhelmed by the population – over 2 million people! We stayed in a nice hotel during our time there, but we saw many poverty-stricken neighborhoods and unpaved roads. The citizens desperately needed our help, that much was immediately clear
Thanks to donations from around the world, we had everything we needed to perform various dental procedures right there in Dr. Garg’s dental clinic. Our day started before 8 o’clock and we didn’t stop until all of the patients received the attention they required. We usually didn’t leave the clinic till after 8:30 p.m.
Our Mission for the People
During the trip, we met patients who desperately needed dental attention, patients who probably wouldn’t have had any other way to access dental care apart from Dr. Garg’s program.
In Rochester, NY, the home of my dental practice, dental implant surgeries can cost from $2,000 to $2,500. After the surgery, patients need time for restoration, a process that can cost an additional $1,500 to $2,000. All of us participating in the mission trip paid travel fees, tuition, and lodging expenses from personal funds so the dental care for these patients could be free.
My colleagues and I performed some bone grafting on patients, who will need further treatment after a few months of healing. Dr. Garg will bring another group of dentists in 3 to 6 months to complete these patients’ surgeries.
All in a Day’s Work
I can’t even number exactly how many procedures we performed, how many bone graftings, tooth extractions, implant surgeries, tissue management procedures, or implant prosthetics. Collectively, my team and I probably accomplished about 400 or more dental implant surgeries in only 3 days. One patient had five dental implants, all in a single mouth!
To simplify the process, the patients had a pre-screening appointment beforehand, so their dental treatment had already been pre-decided. Once my team arrived at the clinic, the people formed a line outside the doors and simply waited until they could be seen. Some waited hours before we had the chance to see them!
I remember on one particular day, a patient came into the clinic for her dental session, and she had a big collection of plantains on her head. She offered the fruit as her way of thanking Dr. Garg and his team for the work we were doing. Dr. Garg greeted her warmly, accepted the bananas, and promptly gave them to the patients waiting in line outdoors. The people shared the food with each other as they waited their turn. I was so intrigued and thankful I had the opportunity to witness it.
When all is said and done, I would return and do it again. The people were so grateful and thanked us profusely! It was eye opening to see how others live in different countries compared to the United States. I am very grateful that I could help these needy patients, and I learned so much during my time with them.
Ronald Heinle, DDS, is the owner and practicing dentist at Heinle Dental, located in Pittsford, NY. Since 1987, Dr. Heinle has offered high-quality dental services and aesthetics, and he continues to further his post-graduate education in dentistry. He can be reached at email@example.com.