It was early one Saturday morning in late March, and I had just walked into an Aspen Dental practice in Glendale, AZ -- wearing scrubs and excited to provide dental care to those in need.
A Gulf War veteran had sat down in the dental chair, and she quickly began detailing her difficulties since returning home from her service while on disability. Alongside my fellow student doctors, we talked her through her concerns and helped repair the broken partial denture she arrived with, as well as provided many much-needed fillings.
This appointment was part of a collaboration effort between the Midwestern University College of Dental Medicine-Arizona and the office of Navbir Aurora, DDS. The inspiration was to organize a day of service for area veterans, the Veterans Dental Care Day, which is part of Aspen Dental's Healthy Mouth Movement.
During this day, third- and fourth-year Midwestern University dental students provided free treatment to our nation's heroes under the supervision of Aspen dentists and the university's faculty.
Students met with patients, identified their concerns, and determined treatment options based on their needs. Patients received services such as fillings, cleanings, and surgical procedures. Students also took records for the repair or fabrication of removable prostheses and worked alongside laboratory technicians to observe their techniques for denture and partial fabrication.
Many of our veteran patients expressed their concern with their limited access to care and the difficulty of obtaining dental treatment. Often, this was because of lack of access to care from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and barriers such as cost and distance from care.
Serving the underserved
One patient arrived with many missing and severely decayed maxillary teeth that offered little function for chewing. We were able to complete his extractions and deliver a custom-made denture in just a few hours -- he was thrilled to see a brand-new smile looking back at him at the conclusion of the procedure!
Stories like his made this inaugural event a unique opportunity for us. We were able to work with a very special group of patients who are not only integral to our society, but are clearly underserved when it comes to their dental care. More important, it served as a reminder to stay involved in service efforts even after graduating from dental school.
As an assistant before I was accepted to dental school, I was first exposed to dental-related community service by participating in multiple Give Kids A Smile events and Special Olympics Special Smiles oral health screenings. I later had the opportunity to travel to Tijuana, Mexico, to assist doctors in providing free treatment to patients who had no other means of receiving dental care.
After witnessing the number of patients treated at the clinic that March weekend, I came to the realization that many of them might still have painful dental disease if not for the efforts of the doctors and assistants who donated their time to give back to this community. I then set a personal goal to gain as much experience in dental service efforts as my school schedule would allow.
Today, volunteerism has played an extraordinary role in my dental education. It has helped me develop a skill set that can eliminate pain, restore confidence, and help patients in living healthier lives. I am always inspired by dentists who are active in their communities, like my own, using the unique skills acquired through their careers to better the health of others at events such as the Arizona Mission of Mercy and HopeFest.
I feel that dentists and dental students have a responsibility to donate their time and knowledge to those who need it most to positively impact their community as a whole. Giving back during my time in dental school has been nothing short of incredible, and I look forward to what my future in dentistry will bring.
Alexandra Pierre-Bez is third-year dental student at the Midwestern University College of Dental Medicine-Arizona.
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