Volunteering Overseas with International Medical Relief: A Self-Fulfilling Opportunity to Give Back

Written by: Shauna Vollmer King, President and Founder, International Medical Relief
International medical relief


Volunteering on an international dental mission trip gives dental professionals the opportunity to offer no-cost dental care to adults and children in underserved and vulnerable communities around the world, providing treatment that patients desperately need while at the same time gaining the fulfillment of being able to give back and make a difference.

International Medical Relief (IMR), a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization based in Colorado, works with Ministries of Health in more than 80 countries around the world to provide dental relief to communities that are lacking basic dental care. Short-term trips from 4-14 days provide dental professionals, students, and volunteers without dental experience the opportunity to work directly with patients to provide dental care and oral health education that they may not have the opportunity to otherwise receive, making a positive impact on their health and their lives.

international medical relief

IMR schedules volunteer teams to travel on more than 150 trips per year to communities in Africa, Asia, South and Central America, and Eastern Europe in a wide variety of locations in which volunteers can choose to serve. In times of emergency such as responding to natural disasters or humanitarian crises, dental volunteers also support IMR’s disaster relief teams to provide care that’s critical to patients’ well-being.


The goal for dental care in IMR clinics focuses on two key objectives: short-term and long-term dental health.

The first objective involves meeting the greatest needs of patients: relieving oral pain and infection from untreated dental caries. Volunteer professionals perform examinations, consultations, and extractions; treat treat abscesses; and refer patients with suspected oral cancers to local medical providers.

Second, and equally important, involves the long-term sustainability of good oral health and hygiene practices. This is accomplished by providing cleanings, fluoride treatments, and oral hygiene instruction.

Sustainability is a key component of IMR’s dental care. Conducting community outreach to define the breakdown in dental health is also important. IMR strives for dental volunteers to educate patients on the root cause of disease in caries, including poor nutrition, access to refined sugars, hydrating with sugary soda drinks, lack of fluoride, and poor hygiene habits.


Dentists typically see an average of 20-40 patients per day depending on the severity of the cases, the length of time needed with each patient, and the number of extractions per patient. For the most part, patients in IMR clinics have never seen a dentist. In some locations, IMR has the opportunity to work in conjunction with a local dental school, creating the ability to easily treat several hundred patients in just a few days.

IMR always seeks out local dentists in clinic locations where possible. They travel with IMR teams to the remote villages and assist with clinics, working alongside the IMR team. Often there is mutual learning and sharing involved. IMR dental professionals learn the local techniques for teeth brushing and tongue cleaning while they demonstrate advanced techniques to the local dentists.


Volunteering on a trip with IMR can be a life-changing experience. Some dentists volunteer right before they retire as a bucket-list accomplishment; others have volunteered many times with IMR. Some volunteers make an IMR trip an annual event and bring their office staff or family along for the experience. Everyone who goes on an IMR trip has a valuable role to play whether he or she is a dental professional or not, including nonmedical volunteers who are crucial to clinic operations.

IMR has no requirements for the maximum or minimum number of dental volunteers per trip. Even one dentist or hygienist on a trip can make a big difference in the lives of patients. To volunteer as a dentist, one must have an active license. IMR also requires malpractice insurance and has resources that can help with easily obtaining a short-term policy. Continuing education credits are available through the ADA in exchange for volunteer time. Feel free to contact the IMR office to learn more about this.

Many retired dentists have volunteered with IMR by working with patients with their oral health and hygiene, providing fluoride treatments, and helping practicing dentists. An active license is not required for these activities.

In addition to providing the overall trip cost, which is submitted as a tax-deductible donation to IMR and varies depending on the trip destination, volunteers need a passport (and sometimes a visa), vaccinations based on the destination, and money for souvenirs. Dentists can bring their own instruments or rent a kit from IMR at a nominal fee that offsets the cost of the instruments.

Volunteers work hard in clinic, but each IMR trip includes some kind of vacation component that the volunteers look forward to. Depending on the trip location, there may be the opportunity for volunteers to go on a safari, visit a beach resort, or experience a country’s culture and learn about its history. Even in the most rustic of locations, IMR finds many ways for volunteers to relax and have fun. In addition, volunteers often take the opportunity to extend their stay after clinic is over for an unforgettable international vacation.

For dental professionals who can’t go on a trip but would still like to support IMR’s mission, there are many ways to help. For example, donations of dental supplies are incredibly valuable to the organization. Dental offices may also choose to sponsor a student who is fundraising to go on a trip, making his or her efforts a bit easier. There are also opportunities to sponsor oral health and hygiene education for an entire village to help improve the community’s overall health.

Volunteering on an international dental mission trip offers the opportunity to provide care to underserved populations while giving those who volunteer the ability to gain from the experience as well.

For more information on volunteering with International Medical Relief, visit internationalmedicalrelief.org.


Shauna King graduated as a Fellow in the Global Health Leaders program at Harvard Medical School and has a Master of Public Administration degree with a finance emphasis from the American University, Graduate School of Public Affairs, as well as a Master of Public Administration degree with a healthcare management emphasis from George Washington University, School of Health Services Management and Policy Institute.

To contact, email shauna@internationalmedicalrelief.org or call (970) 635-0110.