“I firmly believe that even a small group of people can make a very big difference,” says Dr. Andy Shih

It was in the summer of his second year of dental school in 2011 that Andy, now practising dentistry in the London, Ontario area, became part of an eight-member team of health professionals providing health and dental services in northern Tanzania. His volunteer dentistry abroad experience is detailed below.

“I saw patients who were in incredible distress and had life-threatening infections — severe cases of periodontitis and heavily-decayed teeth,” he says. “In many cases to alleviate their pain all we could do was perform extractions, which can be extraordinarily distressing for practitioners,” he recalls.

“These impoverished people often had limited access to medical and dental care,” he explains. “It was so rewarding to visit schools to instruct students on how to brush their teeth properly and then notice that the teachers themselves were taking notes so they could pass on the information to their incoming students,” he says. “I became their dentist and their teacher!”

Western University’s MedOutreach program was formed 27 years ago and, every year, a team of medical, dental and nursing students is assembled to volunteer. For the past 19 years, they have returned to the same communities in Tanzania.

It takes about $60,000 annually to carry out MedOutreach’s objectives. “The funds are used to purchase dental supplies and medications, such as antibiotics and anesthesia,” says Andy. “Even basics like gauze, toothbrushes and toothpaste are luxuries that many of these people could never afford,” he says.

The volunteer teams also rely on medical and dental suppliers to obtain much-appreciated donations of products. These funds and supplies are handed over — “the passing of the torch” — to the next team of students and mentors.

“We don’t go over there saying our ways are better than theirs and we’re not there to change them as people,” Andy states. “We’re partners working hand-in-hand with their local doctors, hospitals and communities.”

“In the end, the most important part of this experience was that I gained an understanding of the culture and way of life in Tanzania,” he says.

To learn more about the MedOutreach program or to donate, visit www.medoutreach.ca

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