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You can get information about humanitarian dental mission trip opportunities in various ways. Google, word of mouth and the ICD website are good places to start. Provincial Dental Associations may be another source of information or they could direct you to a member who may help. Lots of groups have a religious affiliation so you might try asking around your local churches.
Before making a quick decision, it is wise to check into the various organizations that sponsor humanitarian missions. Researching their track record is key. A good NGO (Non Governmental Organization) has people “on the ground” who work for you. They are essential to a good experience.
Some missions are dentistry-only missions while others incorporate various other disciplines. Consider the latter as there are benefits to be derived from the presence of different disciplines.
The optimal length of a mission is 8-10 days. A good formula is a mission that starts on a Friday and goes to the following Sunday.
Of paramount concern should be your own health and safety. There are specific measures that should be taken to protect your health -utilize Travel MD, check with your local Health Unit (as certain shots may be needed well in advance of you departing), ensure a safe water supply is available in the host country and bring your own prescription medication as well as medications like anti-malaria drugs that are recommended for certain areas of the world. Be prepared to treat your own drinking water.
As far as safety is concerned, keep in close contact with the local NGO and the Canadian Foreign Affairs Department. The local NGO can also be a big help with visa information and acquiring a written invitation from the Department of Health – which is very advisable. Each country is different. It also helps if you can contact someone who has recently participated in a humanitarian mission in this particular country or area of this country.
You should check to see if there are certain cultural ‘faux pas’ that you should know about before arriving. For example you need to find out if there are local clothing standards that need to be adhered to, appropriate signs of affection that need to be respected and what types of food are acceptable.
You should learn about the country and the peoples before you go. Ensure with the NGO that you will have local support as you go about your work. You need to have the attitude “can I help you” and listen to the local people. When you are there, you are a visitor. You need to have the attitude that the host culture is equal in status to your own. Briefing meetings with local NGO representatives on arrival are critically important. In order to have a good experience, you will need to build trust through humility and sensitivity.
Family members are welcome to accompany you but they will need to realize your time constraints as well as the safety concerns. Young children can find the experience boring. It can also be very expensive to go on a dental humanitarian mission whether alone or with others. Not only will you have to pay your own way, but you need to also consider time away from your office, providing resources such as sundry items that you may require while on your mission, etc.
On the other hand, some have reported very positive experiences with late high school and university students as they may wish to participate in the mission. So consider the age, desire to participate and the mission team when you consider including family.
If you do go on a mission, you could incorporate a vacation into your trip but it should be after your mission is finished.
You will likely be required to send a notarized copy of your dental regulatory registration and a letter of good standing from your regulatory body to the host country in advance.
Malpractice coverage may be available through Marsh Canada or you may access insurance through organizations such as dental associations in some countries. Disability insurance considerations may require a phone call to CDSPI before you go. Every country is different.
Dental regulatory authorities will encourage you to go on humanitarian missions but most will not consider this type of work as worthy of CE points. However, you may qualify if you were in a position to teach local health care providers while you were taking part in your mission. Also, there is a possibility that you could use your time providing dental care on your mission to fulfill your regulatory body’s registration requirements. Check with your regulatory body before you go especially if you are depending on these hours to maintain your registration.
The type of work that you can expect to do on a mission varies. There is typically a range of treatments but mostly a lot of surgery.
There are resources available to help ensure optimal infection control. The OSAP Manual is available by calling Dr. John O’Keefe at CDA offices in Ottawa.
You should not expect instruments, materials or devices to be at the host clinic. Live by the motto: If you can’t do without it, bring it. Consider bringing items with you such as loupes, gloves, handpieces, forceps, composites, amalgam, hand-held x-rays, local anesthetics, antibiotics etc. Make sure that local NGO people can help you get through customs. Consider bringing a generator as you cannot assume there will be electricity. If you do bring a generator, remember that guaranteeing a fuel supply is critical. It is best to know the local rules in terms of bringing in supplies.
Check with the NGO about specific paperwork that needs to be completed before bringing such material into a host country. Local Customs Officials can take your stuff apart. Expect the unexpected. Every country is unique. Outdated dental supplies are not welcomed by government health authorities or at customs in most countries.
It is wise to communicate with the local dental (and other health) professionals, dental associations or university. You may consider having them as part of your team. You may also consider leaving some sundry items with the local professionals when you leave. This is usually very appreciated but check with the government as they may frown on this practice. Keep in touch with the locals and spread the learning!
There is funding available for humanitarian dental missions through ICD-Canada’s Spence Foundation. Contact them for further information on how you can apply for this funding. Also, ICD International is developing an interactive map of humanitarian dental mission opportunities being created. Check the ICD website to see if it has been downloaded.
In Conclusion – Key Lessons
Advanced thought and preparation are key – be well-informed before you go.
Be adaptable and agreeable with modest goals.
Realize that humanitarian dental missions are not for everyone.
There are costs associated, but a lot of satisfaction can come your way. The average cost from the time you leave until you are home in 2017 is $2,500.00 to $3,000.00 Cdn.
Teamwork is essential for success – especially with local professionals
You have to be patient – and be prepared for delays and surprises
Be passionate about helping people
ICD Dental Mission Conversation
https://vimeo.com/186420436 part 1- password is 1234
https://vimeo.com/183537978 part 2-password is 1234