Dental Workers Bring Smiles to Dominican Children

03/14/13

Mindy Finnegan did not take her church's challenge lightly. It was Missions Day at Peninsula Bible Fellowship and her pastor had encouraged everyone to pray about how they could be involved. Mindy left the missions fair feeling like God was calling her to something.

A dental assistant, she went back to her office at Clear Creek Dentistry in Silverdale, Washington, and asked her coworkers to join her on a trip to the Dominican Republic.  A few months later, Mindy was going on—and leading—her first-ever mission trip. With her on her Children of the Nations (COTN) Venture Trip were her husband, 10-year-old son, three other dental professionals from her office, and her coworker's 16-year-old daughter. 

 
The team's vision was to focus on oral hygiene education in the communities COTN serves. "We were hoping to make a shift," Mindy explains.  "We wanted to encourage people to take care of their teeth so we wouldn't have to do so many extractions." 
 
The team headed out to the communities each morning and worked with local leaders from COTN's Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene program to lead workshops in oral hygiene. Ten-year-old Caleb was a big help in this. The children listened with rapt attention as Caleb, aided by a translator, taught them how to brush and floss their teeth.  
 
The afternoons were spent in the clinic, screening patients, prioritizing those who were in the most pain, and seeing as many people as possible. While the patients waited, they also learned about basic oral hygiene. The younger ones got to make paper airplanes with Caleb.
 
But some days the need was just too great, and emergency care had to take precedence over prevention and education. "One day they told us, 'we have a dilemma,'" Mindy relates. They had about forty patients who were in pain and needed emergency care. 
 
Mindy says that in the US, one dentist will see about five or six patients in one day. "We told them we'd do as much as we could," says Mindy. "We prayed about it, and at the end of the day we saw every patient!" The team started at 9 a.m. each day, and usually worked until 8 p.m. That day, they saw all forty patients and got done earlier than ever before! "It was all God," Mindy says.
 
When the time came to leave, Mindy says, "Everyone was crying—even the guys." On their one-week trip, the team made a huge impact—both immediately and for the long-term. But Mindy says they all feel they got more out of the experience than they gave. "We learned so much from them," she says. "Here, we are always searching for something to make us content.  They have so little, but it was humbling to see how much joy these children have." Caleb's conclusion was similar.  On arriving home, he announced, "I will never complain about anything ever again!" 
 
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