March 20, 2022, is World Oral Health Day, a day that aims to empower people with the knowledge, tools, and confidence to secure good oral health. For children born with a cleft lip or cleft palate, proper dental care is especially important. Global surgical nonprofit Operation Smile works with dentists who volunteer their time with the organization, providing oral care to children with cleft conditions around the world. The treatment that cleft patients receive through Operation Smile extends beyond surgery, as they are provided with oral health education and resources to support healthy smiles for a lifetime.
Dr. Neda Kalantar is a pediatric dentist who resides in Washington, D.C. She has been an Operation Smile volunteer for over 25 years, attending 13 medical programs with the nonprofit. The care that Operation Smile dental volunteers, like Dr. Kalantar, provide to patients in developing countries is extremely valuable.
“Oral healthcare is truly a luxury in many parts of the world,” explains Dr. Kalantar. “Many that live in parts of the world with limited access to dental care do not realize the importance of good oral health, unfortunately. It is very rewarding to provide care and education to patients in areas where they otherwise would not have access.”
Operation Smile dental volunteers focus on oral health for patients living with cleft conditions both before and after surgery. This may include extractions, the creation of obturators, and other strategies that improve intra-oral function, speech, and aesthetics. In addition to treatment, Operation Smile dental volunteers work with patients and their families before and after surgery, ensuring that they are educated on how to take care of their mouth and are provided with resources to maintain a healthy mouth following treatment.
“For children who are undergoing treatment for a cleft condition, any active dental disease can affect the healing of their surgeries,” explains Dr. Kalantar. “More awareness to oral health brings less dental disease and pain, and hopefully more smiling and happy kids. Once a cleft lip and palate is repaired, it’s life truly changing. The patients can eat, talk, and breath so much better.”
Dr. Dane Hoang, a Dallas-based pediatric dentist, has been volunteering with Operation Smile since 2008. Dr. Hoang has served on 11 medical and dental programs with Operation Smile and has a passion for transforming the lives of patients through dental care.
“Dental care is particularly important for kids with a cleft lip or palate because they are at a higher risk of having tooth and gum problems,” explains Dr. Hoang. “Young children with a cleft condition have narrow arches, so educating them and their families on how to properly clean their mouth is rewarding because it makes an impact on how well they recover after surgery.”
In the countries where it works, Operation Smile also relies on the services of local volunteer dentists who serve on medical programs and at year-round care centers, providing patients with dental treatments on a consistent and ongoing basis.
Since 1982, Operation Smile has provided free, life-changing surgical and dental care for more than 326,000 patients, enabling them to eat, breathe, speak, and live healthier lives. Thanks to the passion and dedication of Operation Smile volunteers, those with cleft conditions will continue to have access to treatment.
“In the United States, children born with a cleft condition get it repaired right away,” Dr. Hoang continues, “To go to any country and help change a kid’s life through cleft treatment is rewarding because you are changing that child’s life forever.”
ABOUT OPERATION SMILE
Operation Smile is a global nonprofit specializing in expert cleft surgery and care. Over the last 40 years, we have provided medical expertise, research, and care through our dedicated staff and medical and student volunteers around the world, working alongside local governments, nonprofits, and health systems, and supported by our generous donors.
Learn more at www.operationsmile.org or by following @operationsmile on social media.