By Ross Nelson D.D.S
Ed. note: A while back we made a call to Dr. Ross Nelson on a non dental related matter. After a short exchange he explained he was in the Dominican Republic and we assumed (of course) that he was basking by the pool at an all inclusive resort in Punta Cana or Puerto Plata.
We were wrong and when we discovered why he was there and what he was doing we asked if he might share the story with us.
And he said yes
When I began telling friends I was going to the Dominican Republic to do dentistry work, often the response was “Oh that’s so nice of you!” or something to that effect.
In truth, this was a learning trip. I did not volunteer for a mission trip and, in fact, paid good money to go to the D.R. and remove wisdom teeth with oral surgeons watching over my shoulder. In short, an intensive surgical training aimed at enhancing and expanding our patient services.
Of course , there is a philanthropic nature to the organization I went with; the tuition paid by U.S. doctors supports a very westernized facility with air conditioning, modern equipment and imaging technology and in return the organization offers all treatment to Dominicans for free.
We spent three days working from 7 AM to sometimes 2 in the morning removing all manner of twisted, impacted, wrapped wisdom teeth. The experience was quite surreal.
We would arrive early, spend a few minutes in lecture or reviewing cases and learning from each other.
Then the flood gates would open.
The patients would enter and sit in fold up chairs in the same room the surgeries were taking place, watching as we treated patient after patient, just waiting for their turn. It would sometimes be 7 to 8 hours before they received treatment, but no one complained or gave up or even looked at their watches. Once in the treatment chair they would simply open their mouths as we began and hold perfectly still. I don’t know if these patients were screened previously for behavior and anxiety or not, but it was impressive.
Through the local anesthesia and the procedure they sat without moving and would simply point to an area if they were having discomfort.
I don’t think I could ever be as complacent as they were.
At the end they would simply mutter “Gracias” or the occasional “Thank you” if they had a little English education. The chair would be cleaned and re-prepared in moments and the next patient seated.
I often have patients come in who are in pain from the their wisdom teeth and constantly must tell them,“You will need to see an oral surgeon in Grand Rapids…..oh and they may be booked out for weeks.”
I cringe every time I have to turn a patient away because of my inexperience. Doing so also means I might be obliged to provide pain relief through medication in the form of Ibuprofen and Norco. With the current state of Opioid abuse, this only adds to what has become a country-wide problem.
The intensive week-long training in the Dominican has given me the experience and confidence to help my patients in a timely fashion and a familiar setting and without the hassle of Grand Rapids traffic.
Plus, it was a trip I will definitely never forget.
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