When asked if there were any patients that stuck out from the more than 680 children seen on a recent dental mission to San Martin, Guatemala, Dr. David Manwaring said they all do.
"These children are the best patients anyone will ever experience," Manwaring said. They don't have the preconceived fears of the dentist like most Americans do, since they don't usually have access to care - a result of both geographic and financial disadvantages.
Manwaring just finished his second trip with Global Dental Relief, a Denver-based nonprofit that brings free dental care to impoverished children of Nepal, northern India, Vietnam, Guatemala and, beginning soon, Kenya. Volunteer dentists, hygienists, assistants and even non-medical volunteers deliver preventative care and treatment through "extremely efficient" portable dental clinics. Children are bused in, and sometimes walk, to receive care.
"Every place I've been in the world where you're going to come from a long way away to help (the patients), they have an appreciation level you can't quantify in words," Manwaring said. "They're overwhelmed."
Kim Troggio, co-founder of the 11-year-old organization, said that when she and fellow founder Laurie Mathews set out to find a way to help needy children, they found providing dental care was one of the most effective ways.
"It has a huge impact in children's lives immediately," she said.
The organization focuses a lot on education, like how and why children should be brushing their teeth, Troggio said. The teams are also committed to seeing the same kids every two years in order to ensure proper care.
Volunteer, Frisco resident and retired dentist Geoff Hoffman has been on numerous trips with the organization, including a few two-year check-ups.
"Going back to the same populations, we're seeing significantly improved hygiene," he said. "That's the rewarding part of it - you know you're making a little dent."
So far, 62,000 children have been seen by Global Dental volunteers, Troggio said.
"It is hard to express fully the overwhelmingly positive effects these trips have on all the volunteers," Manwaring said. "It is truly a paradigm shift in one's introspective thinking."
After only a couple of days, there's a common thread that brings everyone together.
"You give so much wherever you go, but my feeling is that I get back even more," Manwaring said.
Hoffman said he likes the fact that almost all the organization's money goes back into the program.
"To me, that's critical," he said. "I think their heart's in the right place."
Hoffman also likes that the nonprofit isn't tied to any political or religious organizations - "we just fix teeth," he said - and the response from patients.
"They'll see you in the street the next day and hug you," he said. "There's just such a thankfulness."
To participate, one doesn't need dental experience. On Manwaring's May trip, half of the 16-person team were non-medical volunteers. He trained two women who "didn't know anything about it, and they had fun."
"They want people who want to give back and don't know how to make it happen," Manwaring said. "This is a starting point."
> To get involved in a week-long trip, contact Kim Troggio at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (303) 858-8857.
> For more information, go to www.globaldentalrelief.org