Truly Giving Thanks by Creating Smiles for Honduras
Contributing valuable services to a community in need
Arun Srinivasan, DMD
One of my best and most rewarding Thanksgivings was spent more than 2,000 miles away from my family. Some of you may be thinking, “How could one say such a thing?” Don’t misunderstand me. I missed my family terribly, but I was happily doing something beyond myself—I was part of a team of 12 Aspen Dental clinicians that traveled to Honduras to provide free dental care to more than 500 people in desperate need.
Because only a small portion of the population has access to health services, including dental care, we knew we were on a difficult mission. We treated Hondurans ranging in age from 5 to 75 in makeshift “dental offices” in Plan Grande, San Jose, and Yoro.
We overcame challenging working conditions, including no running water or electricity, as well as long hours and a 5-hour hike up a mountain. We sat benches on two sets of brick piles, one higher than the other, in order to have “dental chairs” that reclined. In place of an ultrasonic and autoclave, we scrubbed instruments with wire brushes and used a pressure cooker on a propane stove to sterilize them.
While our working conditions were tough, Honduran residents’ oral health conditions were far worse. Almost all had never seen a dentist before, especially the younger patients.
The children were so strong. One 7-year-old girl came to the clinic alone, needing many extractions and crying inconsolably, not knowing what was ahead. After several tense moments, which included letting her get some air at one point, she came back to the chair and went through with it. Her courage was unforgettable, a story that we saw countless other times.
The appreciation we saw in their faces was beyond any form of gratitude. There was a boy, approximately 9 or 10 years old, who lived in a mountaintop village in San Jose. One of our hygienists did his cleaning and said the boy had caries lesions in his front teeth. She brought him over for fillings, but unfortunately, the cavity in one of his teeth was into the pulp. When the boy realized he needed his front tooth pulled, he started uncontrollably crying.
Thankfully, this diagnosis could not have come at a better time—before an infection or serious pain began. The boy left that day, bandaged and worn out, a patient I never expected to see again. But there he was the next day, giving our hygienist Tiffany a big hug—a Thanksgiving gift one cannot forget.
The trip was more than I ever could have imagined. It is these experiences that shape you as a person and as a dentist. Giving back to those in real need, whether at home or abroad, can give an incredible perspective and appreciation for what privileges and luxuries we have in our lives.
All successful clinicians are busy day in and day out, making a living by treating their patients. Nevertheless, sometimes it is hard to remember the overwhelming need there is for the care we provide—one that crosses borders. I urge all of my fellow dental professionals to take the time to ponder this reality and see if you are able to go out and make a difference. It may not solve the problem entirely, but it will help.
Moreover, it takes a team effort to make a sizeable impact. For us, that meant partnerships with Honduras Hope and the sponsorship of Aspen Dental Management, Inc. I’d like to thank Drs. Chedly Shatzie Vincent, Tolulope Oyediran, April Buckins, and Mohammad Arif, as well as Kaylea Stanely, Katherine Williams, Tiffany Browne, Kaitilin Jo Stumbris, Christina McCoy, Laura Valles, and La’Recia Cook for joining me in this adventure. I know we would all do this again in a heartbeat.
About the Author
Arun Srinivasan, DMD, is the owner and lead dentist of six Aspen Dental-branded practices in Attleboro, Brockton, Dedham, Quincy, Natick, and Raynham, Massachusetts. He is a graduate of the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine.