SYRACUSE, N.Y., Jan. 5, 2015 -- A team of nine Aspen Dental clinicians recently provided free dental care to almost 400 patients during a week-long humanitarian mission to Haiti, a country still recovering five years after the catastrophic earthquake that occurred on January 12, 2010. For many there, dental care takes a back seat to basic survival - most people live in third world poverty and poor housing conditions.
For some volunteers, the connection was deeply personal.
"It was very fulfilling for me because I was able to provide the care and talk to people in Creole and explain to them how to take better care of their mouth," recalled dental assistant Katheline Joseph, a native of Haiti who resides in Fairfield, CT.
One of her patients was an 11 year old girl who walked for hours just to get treatment because her front teeth were filled with cavities. She pleaded to have the teeth restored and not pulled, but they were too decayed. Joseph told the girl she could have dentures made to bring back her smile, but she needed her mother's consent. The next morning, the little girl and her mother were the first in line – the procedure was a success.
"She gave me a hug and she was so happy," said Joseph. "Her smile was priceless."
Joseph was invited to be a part of this team by Dr. Schatzie Vincent, whose parents hail from Haiti. This was the second dental mission to Haiti that Dr. Vincent led; her first was in November 2012.
"By the time most of these people see us, extraction is the only option," said Dr. Vincent. "People have been have been without teeth for such a long time. My heart goes out to them."
Things have gotten a bit better since the devastating earthquake. There are no longer tents in the streets. Buses are running and road conditions are getting better. But one thing has not changed - the lack of access to dental care. Dental education is almost absent there.
"Over there it's the norm that you don't think about your body until it starts to hurt," said Joseph.
Dental hygienist Janette Charles remembered not having access to dental care as a child growing up on the nearby island of Dominica. Now, 20 years later, she saw much the same in Haiti. So despite the challenges of substandard conditions - generator-powered electricity and the lack of running water - and long, 12 hour days, Charles looks back with a smile.
"You become humble doing things like that. You become more appreciative," said Charles. "It's a living experience."
Being 'A Small Part of Something So Big'
"It's so rewarding, not only to have a skill, but to use that skill for people who so desperately need it," said Dr. David Elrod, an Aspen Dental practice owner from Clarksville, TN, who was also on the trip.
He described the long lines of people waiting for care. For many, this would be all the treatment they would get for a long time.
"I feel like Aspen had given me an opportunity to be a small part of something big," said Dr. Elrod.
That 'something big' included the ability to literally create brand new smiles for some of the patients – something different from the previous mission in 2012.
This year the group brought along two lab technicians to make dentures in conditions far different from the in-office labs at the Aspen Dental practices where they work. They had to develop a field-expedient device - using a pressure cooker and a locally purchased bike tire pump to help make the dentures.
"Being able to do what we did two years ago was awesome," said Dr. Vincent. "The ability to make dentures brought this trip to a totally different level. Giving someone their smile and self-confidence back – and the ability to chew again – is just amazing."
Lab technician Heather Sherman of Spring Hill, FL remembered the look on the face of one denture patient - a woman in her 80's who couldn't stop smiling afterwards.
"It was extremely emotional for me," said Sherman. "It shaved years off their appearance and on top of that they were able to eat regular food."
This is the second year Aspen Dental Management Inc. sponsored a dental humanitarian mission in Haiti. The team worked with Restoration Ministries – a community-based assistance group in Haiti.
About Aspen Dental
Aspen Dental is one of the largest and fastest-growing networks of independent dental care providers in the U.S. with more than 450 practices in communities across 28 states. As part of its mission to provide America with a healthy mouth, Aspen Dental-branded practices are providing millions of Americans with access to quality, affordable dental care. Every Aspen Dental-branded practice offers a full range of dental and denture services – including comprehensive exams, cleanings, extractions, fillings, periodontal treatment, whitening, oral surgery, crown and bridge work.
In 2013, Aspen Dental-branded practices recorded nearly 2.9 million patient visits and welcomed more than 600,000 new patients. The dentists and staff at Aspen Dental-branded practices have a deep commitment to patient satisfaction, and every Aspen Dental location is accredited by the Better Business Bureau.
Aspen Dental practices are supported by Aspen Dental Management, Inc., a dental support organization that provides non-clinical business support to licensed, independent dentists.
To learn more about Aspen Dental practices and services, preview the Aspen Dental patient experience, get answers to general treatment questions, find a location, and schedule appointments, visit www.aspendental.com. To learn more about careers at Aspen Dental, visit http://aspendentaljobs.com.