Michelle B’s Review of the March 2014 Dental Mission Trip
If anyone has ever considered volunteering for a dental mission I would highly recommend not thinking about it and just going. That’s what I did.
I received a phone call from my good friend, Lois, a dental hygienist, asking me if I would like to accompany her on a mission to Jamaica. Without any explanation or hesitation I responded with an immediate YES! And that’s when it took on a life of its own. We were now in the hands of an extremely kind, compassionate, determined and persevering man, Roger L. Plante, Dental mission coordinator for JOP-Jamaica Outreach Program.
Joining us all the way from Montreal, Canada was Marc, a dentist who came out of retirement just for this mission and another hygienist Kathy from Massachusetts. We were in need of one more dentist. I went into work the following week and spoke to my doctor about the mission and without even a second thought he said yes. With Dr. John on board all that we needed now was a dental assistant. I telephoned a former dental assistant friend, Donna and before the call ended she committed herself to the mission knowing that she was going to be paying well over what we paid for her flight because of it being last minute. People like Lee, from Florida who doesn’t know a thing about a dental office, never mind dentistry came along to be an extra person to lend a hand. But these types of people are what make up a mission and I can guarantee you’ll be a changed person when you return back home. Or at least your outlook on life will be changed.
The JOP mission headquarters are located in Naples, Florida. The mission statement is as follows: If you ever have wanted to make a difference in the lives of God’s poorest and most needy Children, here is your opportunity. You can follow in the footsteps of many of your peers in joining us on a three work-day mission trip to Kingston, Jamaica at which time we hope to see some 150 needy patients of all ages, most of whom have never received any type of dental care whatsoever. And let me tell you we came nearly close to seeing that many people in the short time that we were there. Between dental cleaning, restorations and extractions we saw 40 patients the first 2 days that we were there and 45 patients on the last day. The days are full and non stop but that’s why you’re there. You lend a hand wherever it is needed without question. Just when you think that you can’t see another patient all that you have to do is go to the front desk and look out into the waiting room into the eyes and faces of these beautiful, innocent children and patient adults and your energy is restored. Some of these patients have waited years to be able to come to the clinic, saved whatever money they could to get transportation to the clinic and probably borrowed the $5.00 that’s asked of them to cover the cost of their dental visit whatever that may be. Their happy faces and the gratitude that these Jamaican people show to you revives and rejuvenates you allowing you to get up and do it all over again the next day. We can even forgive Rosemary, who works at the front desk for squeezing into the schedule 10-15 patients each day! After this mission, I believe our Montreal dentist, Marc was headed straight back into retirement.
I have heard many stories and listened to the descriptions of the working conditions at the facilities that many dental personnel have been to in various countries. This dental clinic was an actual building with a roof, doors, bathroom, front desk, waiting room and a break room. The clinic is 5 years old and has air conditioning, three rooms with full chair units, an x-ray unit and perio pro developer, an autoclave, and an(intermittently working) cavitron. Yes, we had to work around the compressor shutting off, loosing electricity, power and water to the units. But what the heck, isn’t that what goes along with being on a mission? We were fed very well and bottled water was at a constant supply. The clinic would not run as it did if not for the help of our now very dear friend, Boxer. The go all, be all, fix it man and if he can’t will find someone to fix it and fast. A local man who grew up right around the corner from where the mission grounds are located, turned his life completely around from being a bare knuckled boxer to Roger’s trusted right hand man.
The sleeping accommodations were at a nearby Hostel complete with an Olympic sized swimming pool which was great for using and relaxing around after our long and rewarding days. It is very safe and surrounded by a fence and barbed wire with a gate keeper and guard dogs on the premises. The hostel used to be a hotel but now it serves as a hostel and a convent. The grounds are well manicured with beautifully colored flowers. Within the fenced in yard is a school and a nearby church. There is van just for us and a dedicated driver, Felix, who drives the crew to and from the mission and anywhere else in-between.
Because the clinic is located on school grounds, as part of the mission, Roger asks the hygienists to do dental screenings on the school children in the school auditorium. You basically look into their mouths with a mirror and flashlight; yes it came in very handy, and record what needs attention. The children are so polite, soft spoken, shy, well behaved and attentive. On this particular day, the children were scheduled for early release. I had already screened one classroom of 12-13 year olds. I asked the teacher if there were more classes of that age group and she said yes, but little did I know how many more! I told her that I would stay and see 20 -30 more children. Well, one and ½ hours later I screened close to 190 children! Where did they all come from? I was just glad that we had enough toothbrushes and prizes to go around.
At the end of the day, each person from our crew had different stories to share about their days patients. This one particular woman came in concerned about her discolored tooth thinking that it needed to be extracted. She was obviously worried and dentally conscientious. After cleaning her teeth, educating her with home care instructions and assuring her that her tooth did not need to be extracted, she proceeded to remove her earrings and necklace and graciously give them to me. She was so grateful for the time that was given her explaining how to take care of her mouth. Dr. John asked one of the children if he was going to place his extracted tooth under his pillow for the tooth fairy. Well, giving that we are in the poorest part of Jamaica, there probably isn’t a pillow for a tooth to go under! What they do instead is throw it on the rooftop. The primary tooth is referred to as a milk tooth. If you’re lucky enough, you might get to do an extraction like I did. One patient was so thankful that he came back to give the doctor a bottle of Jamaican wildfire rum. Back to the olden days of payments made with a cow or a goat!
All in all the stories are different but the same. A mission is what you put into it and believe me you get so much more out of it. Just show up. If anyone is interested in going on this mission, here is the contact information: firstname.lastname@example.org. You won’t regret it. As a matter of fact, we are planning on returning next year.