Global Health Nexus, Summer 2003

Caribbean Outreach  

Return to Jamaica

In January 2003, a delegation of 12 students from the NYU Dentistry chapter of the Student National Dental Association, accompanied by Dr. Ralph Cunningham, Group Practice Director and Clinical Associate Professor of General Dentistry and Management Science, and Dr. William Maloney, Instructor in General Dentistry and Management Science, joined a 34-member team of dental and medical volunteers from HealthCare International for NYU Dentistry’s twelfth annual trip to provide dental care to Jamaica’s underserved communities.

During their six-day stay, the dental team screened over 4,000 patients at nine sites, including schools, shelters, infirmaries, and a resort hotel where locals work without medical or dental benefits. The team distributed dental care products, provided training in basic oral health care, and performed over 630 extractions and a variety of other dental procedures at no cost to the patients.

The trip had special meaning for Dionne Finlay, a third-year student who is also a native of Jamaica. “I have been anxiously waiting to get to my third year of training so that I could participate. I extracted teeth on a number of young patients, and found myself treating the children who were afraid to see a dentist. One day a six-year-old girl came to me crying. When I asked her why she was crying she said she was afraid I was going to hurt her. I felt a bit sad to hear her say that, so I assured her that it would be OK, that I was only going to look and tell her how well she has been brushing, and if she needed to improve. She was so happy she gave me a big hug, and I remember thinking, ‘Lord, please let her mouth be OK.’ I think I was happier than she was when I told her that her mouth was in great condition and she should continue to brush well. She left with a big smile and later brought her friend back to see me. Moments like those made me realize that my goal of becoming a pediatric dentist is very valid and worth pursuing.”

At several sites, the team was accompanied by the Colgate Mobile Dental Van, which enabled them to perform operative procedures in the van’s fully furnished dental unit. Other sites featured impromptu clinic set-ups in classrooms and lounges. The emphasis of the dental clinics was as much on education and prevention as treatment. Children were treated to brushing demonstrations on “the big mouth,” a visual teaching tool, and taught to sing “The Brushing Song” to make the oral hygiene instruction fun.

The dental delegation was hosted by Jamaica’s May Pen Rotary Club, including Dr. Noel Brown,’88, now practicing in Jamaica, and Dr. Patrick Brown, ’93, president of HealthCare International.

A Continuing Commitment to the Dominican Republic

Last November, during NYU Dentistry’s seventh annual outreach trip to the Dominican Republic, where the need for dental care is more desperate than in even the most underserved parts of the U.S., one woman walked all night to get to NYU Dentistry’s temporary clinic. A patient seen on a previous trip returned to the clinic to thank our students and faculty for saving his life after they identified oral cancer.

While the demand for care far exceeded available resources, the trip did achieve significant results. The outreach team provided over 2,000 treatments, including exams, extractions, fillings, and sealants, and diagnosed cases of leukoplakia and fibroosseous lesions, according to team leaders Dr. Lidia Kiremidijian-Schumacher, Professor of Basic Science and Craniofacial Biology, and Dr. Stan Dawkins, Associate Professor of General Dentistry and Management Science and Director of Advanced Education in General Dentistry.

The team of 10 students, three general dentistry residents, and six faculty members bonded well with the community. Johanna Camilo and Gilberto Nunez, both Class of 2003, made the trip as an expression of solidarity with their native country. Ms. Camilo, who is Past President of the NYU Dentistry student chapter of the Hispanic Dental Association said, “While I’ve organized many outreach programs during my years at NYU, I’ve never experienced one that so directly and immediately impacts health and the quality of life for so many people of all ages.” Sponsors included Colgate, which provided its mobile dental van and donated gift bags; American Airlines and Cabarete Palm Beach Condos, which donated discount airfare and accommodations; and the Dominican Air Force, which provided 24-hour security. A Dominican television station and newspaper reported on the trip, and local residents wrote letters expressing love, gratitude, and the hope that the team would return again next year.