Working on a mobile dental truck can be a challenge compared to treating patients in a full-size well-equipped dental office. But, imagine providing dental care in a tent without electricity and only the most basic supplies.
One of the dental assistants for Delta Dental of South Dakota’s Mobile Program discovered that it is challenging, but indeed possible, when she volunteered for a dental mission in Ethiopia.
Cari Miller has worked on the DDSD mobile dental trucks for more than 3 years, providing oral health care to kids in need across the state. She took a brief break from her everyday duties in November to share her skills with Hand of Hope, the world mission outreach of Joyce Meyer Ministries.
Performing dentistry in a makeshift clinic set up on uneven ground with a tent and plastic chairs was a challenge, but Miller said using her oral care skills to help those in need was well worth it.
“It reminded me in some ways of working on the trucks,” Miller said. “You have limitations to overcome and still provide quality service with compassion and dignity.”
Miller was 1 of 4 dental assistants who joined 4 dentists and a dental hygienist to provide dental care in the village of Dara in southern Ethiopia. Her fellow team members came from Arizona, Oklahoma, South Carolina, North Carolina, Norway, and Ethiopia.
Although the team only had limited supplies and no power for instruments, they were able to give much needed oral care that their patients wouldn’t otherwise receive.
Most of their patients were adults with significant tooth decay and pain. The team performed 962 extractions on the 499 patients treated during the 5-day clinic.
“We extracted teeth because we didn’t have equipment or supplies for restoration, nor were their teeth restorable,” Miller said.
Despite those challenges, the entire team worked hard to provide the highest quality of care to each patient.
“We wanted to do our best knowing our patients probably had never seen a dentist before, nor would they ever see another one in their lifetime. It was humbling for us,” Miller said.
While the mission took Miller 8,000 miles from home, she was reminded that the Mobile Program allows her to provide the same care and compassion to those who need it in South Dakota, and hopes others will find ways to do the same.
“I encourage everyone to serve in some capacity within their circle of influence.”