Volunteers Caring for Children

GDR volunteers have been hard at work since 2001, with more volunteer teams each year reaching a growing number of children.

Over time, GDR has worked to refine both clinic practices and oral health awareness – to optimize the level and quantity of care we deliver to kids in need.

Global Dental Relief’s Model of Care

In GDR’s earliest years, volunteers were overwhelmed by the urgent need of entire populations for dental care. To be most effective with limited resources, GDR decided to focus on the oral health of children.

This focus allows volunteers 1) to catch dental decay early when it is easier to treat, and 2) to instill strong oral health awareness and tooth brushing habits in young, impressionable populations. The hope is that over time, what was taught to the school children would spill over to their teachers, families and eventually an entire community.

Today, GDR volunteers reach 13,000 children a year in five countries, using this model of care. Children receive care class by class and, most importantly, are seen every 1.5 – 2 years to ensure long-term dental care and education.

Clinic days begin early with children from a school lining up by class. Each child receives a toothbrush and toothbrush instruction to start out the day. Children clutch their new dental charts as they enter the clinic to receive the first dental exam of their lives. If a child needs care (and most certainly do!), they are “numbed up” and directed to sit and allow the anesthetic to take effect. The intake chair is a busy place, with children receiving exams, injections or verdicts of “perfect teeth”, all while interacting with dozens of bright eager faces.

Dentists treat each child, extracting infected teeth and restoring cavities. The goal is to do all necessary dental care, and children are brought back on subsequent days as needed. At the same time, dental hygienists clean teeth and continue oral health instruction.

Next stop is the fluoride station where each child gets an application of fluoride. Then, still clutching their chart, children proceed to check-out where they are able to select a very coveted sticker to take home. A volunteer favorite is watching children run out of the clinic, mouths open wide, joining curious friends and pointing avidly to their new work.

Clinics are largely joyful yet intense – days are filled with the smiles and excitement of children, moments of trepidation, and small gestures of joining between children and volunteers, bridging generations and cultures.

Time and again, we see this model work. Children return after two full cycles of care and have better teeth, a greater understanding about how decay grows and better tooth brushing habits. Often this is first noticed as the intake dentist, after several exams, asks if there is something different about this population. The answer is a resounding “yes” — consistent, long term care and education demonstrably improve the health of a child.

Please join us – as a dentist, hygienist, or non-dental volunteer – and help us continue this special and important work on behalf of children. To volunteer, email volunteer@globaldentalrelief.org or visit www.globaldentalrelief.org.

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