In 2010, the 20th anniversary of my private practice in Pediatric Dentistry in SuburbanNew Jersey, I came to a crossroads. What was next for me? Treating patients and running my business had become second nature and my 3 sons were well on their way to independent lives, (carpools and homework were ﬁnished!) . As an assistant clinical professor at Columbia University College of Dental Medicine Pediatric Dental Department, I was asked to help supervise a global externship to the country of Guatemala with a group of undergraduate dental students under the direction of “KIDS”, Kids International Dental Services.
Timidly, I agreed. My “dental spanish” is respectable and the idea of a Central American country intrigued me. I had heard there was great hiking and beautiful local handicrafts to buy, so I was sold. Little did I know how joining the team for this ﬁrst expedition was about to change both my life as well as my family’s. Traveling and working with “KIDS” ,(www.kidservices.org), has changed the direction of our lives. Both my husband, Dr. Jon Golub, (he is an Orthodontist) and I have found a new dental ‘purpose’.
Founded by Dr. Robert Renner and his wife, Dr. Purobi Phillips, “KIDS” is a team of professionals that are committed to helping every child in the world have a smile by providing free dental care to impoverished children in developing countries. Since our ﬁrst trip to Guatemala, Dr. Jon and I have accompanied “KIDS” on four humanitarian missions in 2 years time; We have been twice to Guatemala and twice to Cambodia. Our 3 children, who are all in their 20’s joined us on one trip. We have united with old friends and made new friends as well.
Under the direction of “KIDS”, we are able to volunteer and treat hundreds of needy children, providing dental extractions or ﬁllings and ridding many children of oral pain. These children have no access to any dental care and most have never seen a toothbrush. “KIDS” does an amazing job getting both dental professionals, dental students as well as non-dental volunteer into these remote communities which very few outside people know exist.
Make-shift clinics are set up in school and community centers, using tables and chairs as operatories. Lighting is dim and running water scarce. Dental caries is RAMPANT. It is not unusual to do multiple primary teeth extractions, up to 8 teeth at a time. Translators are provided to help communicate with the children so that they are not too frightened.
The beauty of both of these countries is remarkable in different ways. In Guatemala, you are surrounded by majestic mountains, lush cascading waterfalls, incredible volcanoes, and magniﬁcent, serene lakes; all setting a background for this colorful indigenous Mayan culture. The smell of the local tortilleria and the crackling of the roosters is our wake up call. We climb to remote villages to provide local Mayan children, who barely speak any Spanish, dental treatment (they speak in their local dialect).
In Phnom Penh, Cambodia, we are exposed to a Khmer culture that does truly still exist. There is a terriﬁc separation between those with and those without in this country.Young children are living on their own, scavenging in dump sites in order to earn 50 cents a day. We stay in the city and are bused to the local orphanages, where the children are lined up and ready for us at the crack of dawn. Assistance is provided by wonderful NGO’s that are trying their best to help these children with absolutely nothing. In the evenings, we gather in local Cambodian street restaurants for mouth watering curries, ﬁsh amok, and delicious exotic fruits.
I have seen a lot of dental decay in my career. But I am so taken aback by the children in both of these countries. What is most impressive is the amount of smiling we see and laughter that we hear. We are all warmly received and gladly welcomed by even the youngest and most anxious child. Being able to provide these sweet and needy children with good dental care is what I consider only a privilege. Words can’t describe how rewarding it is. It really is an experience of a lifetime. I highly recommended the “KIDS” program for any dental professional or any non-dental professional that wants to volunteer and come home with much more than you can ever imagine. Please feel free to contact me for any further details and questions at www.njhappysmiles.com.
The opportunity to give back will enrich your life in an indescribable way that you never thought possible.
~ Jamie Diament-Golub, DMD