In the March 1994 edition of the Journal of the American Dental Association there was a notice that at medical/dental team was being formed to go to a remote part of the Sichuan Province in central China. The mission was for one month. Our children were young at the time and my wife wasn't too keen on the idea, but she eventually relented. I can't explain what drew me to the mission. It's just something I had to do. Little did I know what a profound impact that experience would have on me.
So in September of 1994 I spent a month in the town of Yibin. This was before the renaissance of China. (The villages of China still have not participated in the explosive growth seen in Beijing and Shanghai.) In 1994 the countryside of China was dirt poor. Hospitals were filthy, more like kennels here in the US. There was no soap in the hotels, so kerosene was used to clean the floors. Rats were all over the dining room. When I got back to the States, I swore I would never go back Well, I guess it's like childbirth; once you do it you forget the bad and remember the good. So in 1997 I went with a team to Jiangyou for two weeks, and in 1999 and 2000 the team went to the town of LeShan. All of these towns are in the Sichuan Province. I have yet to make it to see the Great Wall or visit Shanghai.
In the summer of 2006 I was part of a team that went to Mongolia. We were near the Gobi desert for a week and then in the capital city, Ulan Bator, for two weeks. There was another dentist on that mission, Dr. Wayne Lose from Somerset, Kentucky. I don't extract many teeth in my practice, but in Mongolia that was all we could do. Wayne gave me a three day crash course in tooth extractions. In the time we were there, I extracted close to 400 teeth and Wayne did well over 500. And Wayne had the tough ones. Wayne was a great teacher and has become a close friend. He has traveled all over the world giving of his time and expertise to help thousands of people. I have tremendous respect and admiration for him.
I returned to Mongolia in the summers of 2010 and 2014. Both were wonderful experiences where I was able to serve many, many people again. In the spring of 2014, I took Mongolian language lessons. To learn the language was difficult, but extremely rewarding. I made some lifelong friends with this skill.
In 2008 I was in Tanna Island, part of the Vanuatu Island chain in the South Pacific, about 750 miles west of Fiji and 1500 miles northeast of Sidney, Australia. This was quite a mission and the photographs give a good sense of the environment we served in.
In 2010 the team traveled to the Transylvania, the region in Romania not far from the Hungarian border. There is no dental anesthetic available in this region, so when word got out that an American dentist had dental anesthesia, there soon was quite a line for my services. As you can see from the pictures, in one village I had to work outside.
I have been on several missions with Dr. Paul Newcomer, an optometrist from Quakertown, Pennsylvania. Paul has brought sight to literally thousands of people as he brings with him eyeglasses of various prescriptions and distributes them to these needy people. It is such a thrill to see the smiles of those kids who could never see before. Paul is a very special person. I get much more out of these missions than I give. To have the opportunity to help these people is something I treasure and has become a part of me. I have had the honor of sharing American dentistry with eager Chinese and Mongolian dental students. These young people are thirsty for knowledge, after having been isolated from the rest of the world for decades. Just teaching these kids the basics of hand-washing between patients can save lives. Anyone who has the least inclination to do volunteer work in the third world should do it. You will never regret it. It will change your life forever.
On this page are some pictures from some of my missions. Paul Newcomer is the fellow doing the eye exams. Wayne Lose is helping a young Mongolian dental student give her first injection to her first patient, me. Her hands were a bit shaky, but you can't learn how to give injections from the video game.
I hope you enjoy these pictures, and perhaps they might even provide some inspiration for those considering to do this type of work.