Among the most rewarding experiences a young professional experiences is volunteering to help people. Even before coming to dental school I enjoyed community service. Now, it is even more rewarding because I can apply what I know to help real patients. This is why I volunteered my time to provide oral health screenings with ASDA at the Phoenix Rescue Mission.
Because we are quite close to the border with Mexico, there is a large population of Hispanic migrants here. These hard working folks often don’t have much spare cash, but they still need care. Most of the people we saw at the Phoenix Rescue Mission were Hispanic. Not only did I get to practice my clinical skills, I also got to brush up on my Spanish!
As a second year student, I have learned many basic restorative procedures, but I haven’t worked on any live patients. We still work on mannequins (named Dexter) and won’t learn anesthesia until the end of this academic year.
We may not be doing fillings or extractions, but we can still perform oral health screenings. Volunteering our time for these basic screenings is a valuable service to the community. It also has the added benefit of making us better clinicians.
The Importance of Basic Screenings
When I become a dentist, I plan to screen my future patients for cancer and other maladies. It doesn’t take long, and it is a tremendous service if it means that we can save lives. Unfortunately, I don’t think dentists are reimbursed for their time performing these screenings. I understand then why many do not.
More than once I have met someone who credited their dentist with saving their life. They had a malignancy in their mouth, or a gland, and the dentist referred them to a specialist for care. We are more than mere tooth mechanics, we are healthcare providers. The health and well-being of our patients is paramount.
I hope that someday the mouth will return to the body. Countless diseases and conditions found in the body manifest themselves in the mouth. In fact, sometimes the mouth is the only place a lesion may be observed. Furthermore, many patients see their dentist regularly but not their physician, me included.
Learning how to do basic screenings efficiently improves disease detection rates with little cost. I think it could also be beneficial for dentists to teach local GPs how to perform head and neck exams for their patients.
I knew that I wanted to be involved in my community as a dental student. The next two years will afford me opportunities to go places and do more than I have ever been able to before.
Every time I volunteer it is amazing to see how many more clinical skills I can bring to the table. The added benefit of practicing those skills makes community service events even more appealing to me. I know more about pathology, drugs, and patient health in general each time I volunteer. And all of this without even putting my fingers on a single handpiece!