Re: Dental Volunteerism: Is the Current Model Working?

September 25, 2013

While I agree with some of the points raised by this article,1 the way in which it was presented has only served to dissuade dentists from volunteering their time.

I recently returned from a volunteer trip in the Dominican Republic which was organized by a local Rotary society. Along with 2 fellow dentists, we went from village to village and set up mobile dental clinics to aid the local population—mostly displaced Haitians. Virtually all of our treatments were extractions; in other words, we were merely getting these people out of chronic dental pain and infection.

We could only use potent cold soaking solutions under these circumstances and indeed, we probably left the odd root tip due to the difficult conditions. But we did address many chronic and acute tooth problems, without the benefit of X-rays or other standard clinical tools. We also tried to explain preventative measures using interpreters and gave out toothbrushes and toothpaste to the local population.  While this in no way constitutes long-term dental treatment, I feel that we provided a service for these people that they would otherwise have been unable to access.

Discussions of sustainability do not even come into this kind of work. We did what we could, to the best of our abilities, in the time we had in the area.

Having returned from that situation, I recently held a fundraising event and invited several of my colleagues to participate. We raised funds to allow a village access to water and electricity. I also approached other colleagues about volunteering their time for future trips. One dentist, who had earlier expressed an interest in volunteering along with his daughter (who is a physician), has now decided not to volunteer as a result of reading this article!

It is difficult to approach professionals about giving their time, money and expertise. The tone of your article did not help with this endeavour. I think you could have expressed your message in a far more positive manner.


Dr. Laurie Houston
Orillia, Ontario


  1. Han SJ, Quiñonez CR. Dental volunteerism: is the current model working? J Can Dent Assoc. 2013;79:d69.