Lending a Helping Hand
Imagine leaving the workplace for two weeks to devote your time, knowledge, and skills to transform hundreds of lives. It all began from a patient’s idea, using the right tools and a big heart. Offering dental services to patients and practitioners in Ethiopia – a country with only 48 dentists for a population of 80 million – Dr. Paul Sclodnick reveals the most rewarding experience of a lifetime. The encounter made him appreciate the practice of dentistry at a whole new level.
Q1: What drew you to Ethiopia?
I have a patient who is very involved with an organization called Global Reach Children’s Fund. They’re building an orphanage in Ethiopia called Faith Village. This was their first medical and dental mission to Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world. I was a little apprehensive about going to Africa, since I’ve never been there and I expected it to be very different. Its people have a very healthy, traditional diet, but lately there has been a growing market for soft drinks, because of Western influence. The result is a proliferation of decaying, bad teeth.
Q2: Was there any particular case or people that stood out?
Well, the thing that struck me was how beautiful the people were both inside and out. They were very happy, had a positive attitude, and were very gentle. But one thing that comes to mind is a woman I operated on, which involved removing several of her teeth. As I went to say goodbye, she grabbed my hand and started kissing it, bowing and saying thank you. This caught me off-guard, but it made me realize the people are so grateful to have this opportunity. They were all very brave, very appreciative, and nobody complained. I also took instruments for removing teeth and freezing, like drills and a portable suction unit for surgical treatments. A nurse saw the suction unit and said, “Wow, that’s an amazing tool. Are you going to leave it here? We deliver babies every day and we have nothing like that for suctioning the mouth and nose.” So I donated the unit along with my dental instruments for their use, as they were desperately in need of equipment.
Q3: How does this philanthropic work make you feel?
It feels good. It always feels good to help those in need. I’ve always felt very privileged to be able to practice dentistry and I really love giving something back. I highly recommend that everybody get involved with some kind of humanitarian or volunteer work.
Q4: If you could go back, what would you change in Ethiopia?
I would offer more training. I can only do so much with my own two hands, but if I could be involved in training the people there, it would be beneficial to them. I think that’s the key to making a difference.
Q5: Do you plan to go back?
Probably in one year. I may go to Ecuador, too. There’s a group trying to organize a medical and dental mission there, so it may be next on the list. I definitely would encourage more dentists, whether going to Ethiopia or Ecuador. Together we can make a huge impact.
“The thing that struck me was how beautiful the people were both inside and out. They were very happy, had a positive attitude, and were very gentle.” – Dr. Paul Sclodnick
Q6: What are some of your other initiatives?
I did have some preliminary communications with a small private dental school in Ethiopia and they had invited me to come in and do a guest lecture, but I wasn’t able to attend. Something I would like to do next time is form a partnership with a dental school there, sharing some of the things we do here. One of the most exciting things was going into the school and handing out toothbrushes. I might not be able to teach complicated techniques learned in dental school, but I would definitely like to focus more on general dental health and dental hygiene education.
Q7: What did you learn from this mission?
I learned to appreciate that even though our cultures may differ, people are the same. People in Ethiopia, although they’re poor, have no shortage of intelligence. The people and nurses we worked with – some with just high school education and one year of nursing – they’re smart and can learn anything.
Q8: Besides Smile Makeovers, how have you gone above and beyond for individuals in our community?
Several times a year, I will provide cosmetic dentistry for someone who’s in need. I recently guided a 20-year-old university student towards a bright smile, by fixing serious decays and discoloration in her front teeth. She was sad and embarrassed, and couldn’t afford to have treatments, so I provided a no-charge treatment for this very appreciative person.