Although it's been a few weeks now since returning from Jamaica, it's an experience that I will never forget. As a volunteer participant in the world's largest humanitarian dental outreach project, Great Shape! Inc. - 1000 Smiles, I both served my profession and the community.
This was UCSF School of Dentistry's first humanitarian mission to Jamaica, and I was selected as one of 6 supervising volunteer dentists to accompany their team of twenty-three 3rd and 4th year dental students. With only 1 dentist for every 100,000 people in rural Jamaica (San Francisco has about 1 dentist for every 800 people), our team treated over 800 of the indigent and underserved in Jamaica by providing cleanings, fillings, and tooth extractions over the course of 5 days. We also screened for and found patients with uncontrolled high blood pressure so that the appropriate referral could be made to their physicians, and we visited elementary schools to provide oral hygiene instruction to children.
We served 3 communities in Ocho Rios, Jamaica where their churches or community centers were converted to makeshift dental clinics. Each community had their own personality, but what were common to all were the long lines of people waiting many hours in the hot and humid weather, the limited availability of modern dental equipment, and the lack of air conditioning. We dealt with power outages and long hours with little breaks to be able to see as many people as we could. Jamaica's heat and humidity did take its toll on 2 dental students who experienced heat exhaustion.
For me, the most rewarding moments of the trip were to experience the appreciation shown by both the dental students and Jamaicans alike. It was gratifying to see the dental students' eyes light up from a new learning experience, to watch them become more proficient in just 5 days, and to experience their joys of accomplishment. For me to be able to pass on a bit of knowledge, skill, and experience to these dental students had sparked the desire to teach and mentor again. As a 1984 alumnus of UCSF dental school, UCSF just might be seeing more of me again in the future as a clinical instructor.
I was caught off-guard by the different ways the Jamaicans showed their appreciation for our service. From the sincere Thank You's, smiles, hugs, gifts, and tears of joy from the individual patients and community leaders, to the ceremonies, celebrations, prayers, and fiestas with home cooked Jamaican food from the communities that we served, we all felt that we had changed the lives of the people that we literally touched for the better.
I want to thank the generosity of the Henry Schein Cares Foundation for their generous donations of dental supplies and oral hygiene kits, and the Sandals Foundation for their generous support of lodging, meals, and meeting rooms for our dental team. And thanks to Jenny Neglerio and Du Nguyen, Xi Psi Phi dental fraternity members, for their hard work in organizing this project.
Leo Arellano, DDS
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