I get asked the question, "What made you want to become a dentist?" a lot whenever people ask me what I am majoring in. At first, this question is hard to answer because I always knew I wanted to become a dentist but I never really thought about why I wanted to become one. Until recently.
This past winter break, I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to go on a dental global brigades trip to Panama for a week. Our goal was to guide and aid the local community of Veraguas with dental care in order to ensure that they would have sustainable health care from here on out. Although there is a bit of controversy regarding the "white savior complex", the brigades team and volunteers do everything they can to make sure that we are there for the right reasons. We are not heroes who are trying to save an underprivileged community; we are simply volunteers who want to spread the word about proper dental hygiene while helping people embrace their smiles with a healthier mouth.
Local dentists take out a few weeks from their regular routine jobs to provide dental care services (pro-bono) to the communities in the rural areas. This was truly inspiring to see because it made me realize how many people cannot afford proper dental care, even in our own hometowns. As I aspire to become a dentist, one of my goals will be to provide a similar benefit to those who need it because oral hygiene is more important thank we think. It helps people continue to eat their favorite foods as well as encourages people to show off their confidence and kindness with a flashy smile.
On my first day in Panama, I saw over a hundred local Panamanians lined up at the clinic, waiting for either an extraction or cavity filling. It is the most rewarding and fulfilling thing to see others getting the aid they need because they deserve it just as much as we do. However, the hope is that one day they won't be needing brigades to guide them anymore because they will be self-sustainable and get access to dental supplies/care easily and readily, themselves.
Thus, when people ask me why I want to become a dentist, the whole series of flashbacks from this trip come to my mind and remind me of how amazing the feeling is of helping people and societies as a whole is.
I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to shadow dentists, educate people on oral hygiene, take vitals, and even just get to meet new people of a different culture. It was so evident how grateful they were even though they spoke a different language, because the smiles on their faces showed it all.
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