What I learned on a week long dental mission trip in the Dominican Republic
The last time I went on a dental mission trip was when I’d organized one with my classmates back in intern year of dental school in Manipal University. The year was 2013. Our goal was to set up community clinics in 3-4 remote locations throughout the Ladakh region of Northern India. We raised money, donations, organized travel and served communities in Ladakh for about 10 days. It was an unforgettable trip and required months of planning and hard work to make possible.
The trip I went on last week was different
For starters, it was organized by dentists who truly believed that ‘one cannot serve from an empty cup’. Throughout the week-long mission trip, short local excursions and daily yoga practices were scheduled to integrate mindfulness and recreation. I initially thought these additions would be a great way to stay fit and explore the community we were serving. I realize now, how badly I needed those practices.
In a dental mission trip, we set up clinics in makeshift tents. There are no traditional dental chairs where we can practice good ergonomics. There’s a lot of back bending and placing your body in awkward positions for the sake of visibility. In the jungles of El Valle, the temperature was in the high 70’s with 11% precipitation. In other words, it was hot and sticky. Imagine wearing PPE gear in that weather, out in the sun, with no ventilation.
Mission trips are a lot of hard work
In the middle of an extraction, my eyesight suddenly started to get blurry and I felt my sweat begin to crystallize. I was dehydrated. I quickly found a friend to take over my extraction and went to the break area to find a tall bottle of water. I proceeded to gulp it down in its entirety.
Back in 2013, I was a dental student and not very confident to carry out a ton of dental procedures. I spent a majority of my time in Ladakh setting up equipment and assisting experienced dentists. I remember doing close to no extractions. Close to a decade later, I am an experienced dentist myself and my favorite procedure happens to be extractions. I was extracting on average 5-6 badly broken, infected or decayed teeth per patient. I was enjoying the thrill of extractions and delighted to be giving patients the care they so rightly deserve.
The language barrier was difficult to navigate too. Often in the middle of procedures, patients would ask about something. We had a few bilingual providers with us to help, but I wished to be one of them being able to communicate effectively with patients. This drove home the need for me to learn Spanish once again. A language I had tried learning in the past and need to revisit to master.
Most of all, I learned a lot about myself on this trip
I learned that back home, my life is too busy, too complicated and that there is a need to slow down and appreciate my days more. Sometimes having to focus on just one task is a privilege many of us do not realize we have. If you’re like me, you enjoy the thrill of planning something bigger, grander and working towards it. But, at what cost?
I learned that I need to reduce my workdays and use time off work to focus on my own health and well-being. I also learned that exercising and meditating daily is not just about staying fit. It is to improve your mental health. I met smart, wonderful people from all over the world and realized nobody has it all figured out. We are all working towards getting better at life.
If you ever have the opportunity to attend a mission trip, or better, to attend Revive Mission 3.0 in May 2022, jump on it. Get excited for a life-changing experience. I came away from the week truly revived and peaceful, I hope you will too!