When dentists conduct outreach missions, they often are working in less than ideal circumstances while treating patients who for years have had inadequate oral health care. Performing extractions is frequently a matter of necessity.
Juheon Seung, DDS, Endodontics resident at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD), represents a group of Endodontic residents who would like to change this. Called the REACH committee, the group, which serves as the resident advisory council for the Foundation for Endodontics (AAEF), advocates a new type of outreach program aimed at saving teeth through endodontic treatment as an alternative to extractions.
Nominated for the committee by Patricia Tordik, DMD, program director in the UMSOD Department of Endodontics, Seung was selected to participate after a process evaluating leadership, communication skills, and competence in the field. “Seung has an innate talent for connecting with people,” said Tordik. “He represents the very best of UMSOD.”
At the 2016 Foundation for Endodontics annual meeting, Seung argued successfully on behalf of the new approach. “The Foundation was gracious enough to not only listen, but they were active in implementing the program,” he said.
The Foundation for Endodontics selected Seung and Eduardo Cruz, a third-year endodontics resident from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, to join 25 dental students from Marquette University School of Dentistry on a mission trip to the Helping Hand Clinic in the Treasure Beach area of Jamaica. Founded to provide dental care in underserved rural areas, the clinic, which is located in a converted church, is outfitted with five oral surgery chairs, three operative chairs, and four endodontics chairs.
The dental students would provide general dentistry services, and Seung and Cruz would perform endodontic therapy in cases in which patients’ teeth could be saved.
As word spread that Seung and Cruz were coming and would be able to perform root canals, patients began to arrive from miles away. Some travelled for 4½ hours, transported by brothers from the Missionaries of the Poor, which operates a small clinic in Kingston. “Most people drove four hours on bad roads to be seen because they have no other options unless they want to see a street dentist with a pair of forceps,” Seung said. “It was remarkable.”
Working in the makeshift Helping Hands clinic was an adventure for Seung. Instruments got backed up. The electric circuit broke every few hours. The compressor shut down intermittently. It was hot and humid, and the lighting was limited. “Our loupe lights made us look like miners searching for coal.”
Despite the challenges, Seung and Cruz successfully performed 42 root canals, a new record for the AAEF-sponsored outreach efforts. “We are in a fortunate situation in that we have a specific skill set that can help people,” he said.