‘We need to remember why we came to this profession’
When Dr. Nayrika Salamati entered a makeshift dental clinic inside a church in Hanover Parish in northwestern Jamaica, it felt humid and dark.
“We brought our own lights and our own fans,” she said. “It wasn’t ideal but it worked well enough.”
By 8:30 a.m., busloads of schoolchildren would arrive ready to receive free dental services from a small team, which included two general dentists, an oral surgeon, two Jamaican dental students, hygienists and dental assistants and Dr. Salamati, a pediatric dental resident.
By the end of the week, the team saw 721 patients, most of whom were children, and provided services ranging from restorations to extractions, cleanings and fluoride treatment. The volunteers also provided oral hygiene instructions and prevention education.
Two months later, Dr. Salamati would be doing the same thing — this time in the Village of Canaries in St. Lucia.
For Dr. Salamati, a 2013 graduate of the University of Washington dental school, doing outreach, especially international volunteer work, has been a longtime goal.
“I believe that as dentists, we’re fortunate to provide needed care,” she said. “We need
to remember why we came to this profession.”
For Dr. Salamati, who is currently completing her pediatric residency at Jacobi Medical Center in New York, that passion for volunteer work began at a young age.
She was inspired by the poem “Bani Adam” by Iranian poet Sa’adi that is also inscribed on the United Nations building entrance. The poem calls for compassion, mercy and breaking down barriers between human beings.
“We’re all humans,” said Dr. Salamati, who is from Iran. “During my residency, everybody in the program was encouraged to do outreach.”
Last year, she contacted a coordinator who had given a presentation about international work while Dr. Salamati was in dental school. Dr. Salamati was then put in touch with the Tryall Foundation and Great Shape! Inc., which has an international humanitarian dental project called 1000 Smiles.
Dr. Salamati volunteered in Jamaica from May 14-25, 2016. The volunteers were responsible for the cost of their own flight and were asked to bring their supplies. Dr. Salamati was fortunate that a grant through her residency program sponsored the trip. All other dental equipment and accommodations were provided by Great Shape. Dr. Salamati said that Jamaica has a one dentist per 100,000 patients ratio.
“The trip was intense because we all wanted to do as much as possible,” she said, adding that after a long day, they would come back to their resort to recharge.
“The dental team would have a nice dinner. There’s a pool and fresh coconut water,” she said. “You’ll get tired but it’ll be worth it. Jamaica is beautiful.”
After her return to the United States, Dr. Salamati said she decided to immediately do another volunteer trip.
Working with the same organizations, she went to St. Lucia to volunteer from July 30-Aug. 7. This time, the trip was part of a larger, two-week project. It consisted of a bigger team — up to 50 providers, plus assistants.
However, the work was just as intense, if not more so, than her work in Jamaica.
Dr. Salamati worked on the second week of the project. It took over an hour in minibuses to reach the rural villages where they would set up shop. They saw over 900 patients.
Despite the tough working conditions and hard work, Dr. Salamati said she probably got more out of the trips than what she provided.
“I came out of this a different person,” she said. “You become a more well-rounded health care provider. You get to meet beautiful people and work with a team who share your passion. Once you go, you’ll want to go again and again.”
For more information on international volunteer opportunities, visit the ADA Foundation’s International Volunteer website, internationalvolunteer.ADA.org. The website includes information on how to prepare for a trip, along with a directory of programs with a searchable database of over 125 organizations, including Great Shape! Inc., offering volunteer opportunities for dental professionals around the world.