For those fortunate enough to obtain a college degree in dentistry, there are plenty of opportunities to provide valuable services to those in need. From training health care workers to filling cavities, from going to Uganda to going around the corner, there are many volunteer programs to fit the preferences and needs of dentists willing to donate their time and skills.
More than 100 volunteer programs for dentists who want to provide free care to the impoverished are listed on the American Dental Association website. Dentists are free to choose the country and religious affiliation of the program. Through the Dominican Dental Mission Project, for example, more than 52,000 people in the Dominican Republic have received $8.2 million worth of free dental services in the more than 30-year history of the project. In addition to treating children, the program puts toothbrushes into Dominican classrooms. The eight Dominicans who served as helpers to the program founder have gone on to dental school, in part through program funds.
Dentists can also provide training and education to health care workers in Third World countries. The American Dental Association website lists more than 40 teaching programs and 25 clinical training programs. Since the American Dental Association began its partnership with the group Health Volunteers Overseas, dentists volunteering through the program have provided free training for dental schools in Trinidad and Jamaica, have trained the first orthodontist in Vietnam, and have administered continuing education programs for dentists in 20 countries.
Local hospitals and health care organizations seek volunteers to help underprivileged American communities. St. Luke’s University Health Network in Bethlehem, Pa., for example, has dispatched two mobile health vans to bring dental service to schools in poor neighborhoods since 2007. Dentists can check with hospitals and clinics in their communities to seek similar opportunities. On a broader scale, Colgate toothpaste provides eight U.S. dental care vans with its Bright Smiles, Bright Futures program. The Colgate vans reach 1,000 towns and more than 10 million children a year in the U.S.
Dentists are also in need after natural disasters. Interested dentists can go to the American Dental Association website and apply to volunteer. When nearly a third of Haiti’s dental practices were wiped out by an earthquake in 2010, volunteers with the American Dental Association stepped in. Before the earthquake, the country already had one of the lowest dentist-to-resident ratios in the world, with 350 dentists for 9 million people, so the aid was desperately needed. A tsunami that led to a disaster at a Japanese nuclear plant in 2011 destroyed or closed 1,200 dental offices or clinics, prompting a response from American Dental Association volunteers.