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Volunteerism: limitless opportunities.

Increasing access to dental health care is a much-debated topic. However, one of the easiest ways for an individual to help increase access to dental health care is to become a volunteer. What is the definition of a volunteer? Webster's Dictionary simply defines a volunteer as "one who enters into or offers oneself for a service of his/her free will." (1) A volunteer is not coerced to perform services, but donates time, skills and knowledge willingly to help without normally expecting compensation.

As Chairman of the Special Committee on Volunteerism, I stopped to think about how I became a Certified Dental Assistant. My first introduction to dentistry was through a volunteer experience with Healthcare Ministries (HCM) (2) based in Lakeland, Florida, in 1989. I had been a medical secretary for nearly 20 years and wanted to volunteer to help needy people by participating in a medical missions trip through my church denominational foreign missions service. I was without any clinical skills but had a strong desire to serve and help others in need. My first assignment in Kingston, Jamaica, was to assist in the dental area. I had never set foot in a dental treatment room other than being a patient.

The first dentist with whom I worked was Ronald Lamb, DMD, from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, who had brought along a member of his dental team, a dental hygienist named Laurie. He put us to work immediately. Dr. Lamb showed me how to seat a patient, drape the napkin, process instruments for sterilization, and recognize various dental instruments that reminded me of tools my dad used around the house, especially those "pliers" for extractions! Dr. Lamb was busy working and asked me to hand him a "cow horn." Not ever having seen dental instruments, I surveyed the lineup and picked up one of those "pliers." I handed the forcep to him. He began to work. He suddenly stopped and looked at me, "How did you know this was the right instrument if you have never worked in dentistry?" I replied, "It looked like it had cow's horns." We both laughed, and little did I know in 1989 how much that first volunteer experience would dramatically change my life.

At home I reflected that helping others was a wonderful experience. Seeing other's needs made me realize that dentistry is a very important profession, helping those in pain. Living in remote areas, these people could not afford dental care and often did not have access to care. After another HCM trip to Formosa, Argentina, I realized that nothing else in my life felt so right for me as being part of a medical/dental missionary team. I wanted to learn more about dental assisting and patient care, so I enrolled in a formal education program in Dental Assisting in 1991 at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Graduating at the top of the class at the age of 40, in 1992 I also received the Most Active Student Award from the Durham-Orange Dental Assistant Society, a local component of the North Carolina Dental Assistants Association. My professional organizational volunteer work also began as a student in 1991. I realized the importance of continuing education and giving back to my profession in service with the local, state, and national level of the ADAA.

"Hook, line, and sinker" I became certified in 1992 by the Dental Assisting National Board. I was so proud to have become a professional member of a dental team. I left the next day for a flight to Blumenau, Brazil, to volunteer with HCM.

My continuing work as a dental assistant volunteer led me into the area of teaching people who helped us on the mission trips about dental assisting in Third World countries. Sharing my skills and knowledge was enjoyable. In May 2004 I enrolled in a part-time program at North Carolina State University to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Occupations Teacher Education. Currently, I am also taking a few courses in a Masters of Education: Training and Development program at NCSU in designing instructional systems for business and education.

Dr. Ronald Lamb closed his private practice in 1991 and became a full-time dental missionary who has opened a nonprofit organization named World Dental Relief. He not only travels to many countries providing dental care to needy populations, but helps train and supply dental teams that travel all over the world helping people in need. Dr. Lamb and his wife, Pam, recently contacted me to ask if I would serve on the Advisory Council to World Dental Relief. I was pleased to agree. If it had not been for the positive experience in working with my first dentist, Dr. Lamb, and the medical team with Healthcare Ministries, I would not have become a Certified Dental Assistant and would not be sharing with you today the importance of volunteerism.

It has been 15 years since my first participation on a volunteer mission trip. As I write this I am packing for my ninth trip with Healthcare Ministries to Quito, Ecuador. Through my volunteer experiences, I have touched many lives with the skills of dental assisting. The rewards of volunteer work cannot be measured in monetary terms. Receiving that smile and sincere thanks from a person who would not have been able to receive care gave me a humble heart of wanting to do even more for those in need of dental care.

The teaching skills gained through a college education have now given me the professional training skills to present seminars, publish articles, and design instructional lessons to help teach other dental care professionals. My desire, if I only reach one other dental professional who has a heart for missions, is to give them the keys to success for dental missions that are "collecting information, trip preparation, deciding dental parameters, flexibility and cultural competency." (3) Many people can be helped in Third World countries and in our local communities. The potential for increasing access to dental care for hundreds and thousands of hurting and needy populations can be accomplished by enlisting new dental team volunteers for service--dental assisting professionals such as yourself.

When ADAA President Kristy Borquez asked me to serve as Chairman of the Special Committee on Volunteerism, my heart was filled with gratitude. 1 am honored to help our Association introduce other dental assistants who share this same passion to help find opportunities for dental assistant volunteer work. Our committee members are busy working now to find opportunities for volunteer dental assisting.

There are limitless opportunities to help in our local, state, and international communities to increase access to dental health care. Helping those underserved populations with dental needs has always been my passion while sustaining ties to the field of dentistry and dental assisting. I hope that you will begin to look for a place to share in this exciting area of dental assisting. Please let ADAA hear about the wonderful opportunities you have experienced through volunteer dental assisting and what it means to you. We would like to also encourage our members to apply for the ADAA Colgate Community Volunteer Award that is available to study groups, state and local components.

At different times I have been asked by individuals, "How can you travel on medical mission trips and work with people you have never met before?" The answer came so easily. "It's like meeting old friends whom you have not seen in a long time. The team members come from various parts of the United States and have the same desire to help others who have desperate needs. That is what gives us the bond to work together as a team." Volunteerism is what you give, but often you get back so much more in ways you never dreamed possible. Volunteerism changed my life.

I would like to leave you with these thoughts: "To the world, you may be only one person, but to one person you may be the world because you have touched them with compassion, touched their heart with love ... and relieved their pain." (4)


(1.) Webster's Dictionary and Thesaurus Reference, Leisure Entertainment Service Co., Inc., 1992, 401.

(2.) Healthcare Ministries www'

(3.) Newman C. (2004). Have drill, will travel: An adventure awaits. Chicago Dental Society Review, May/June 20-21.

(4.) Lamb R. Portable dental missions, ed. 3. 2002; World Dental Relief, Broken Arrow, OK.

Carolyn C Newman, CDA, BS, Chairman of the Special Committee on Volunteerism, is a Curriculum Coordinator in Applied and Materials Sciences, at the University of North Carolina-CH, and administrative assistant to the Chairman. She has served as ADAA Fourth District Trustee, President of the North Carolina Dental Assistants Association, and President of Durham-Orange Dental Assistants Society. Her volunteer experience in South America, Jamaica and Mexico includes dental work setups in the mission field. She is currently serving, again, as President of Durham-Orange Dental Assistants Society and President-Elect of North Carolina Dental Assistants Association.
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Author:Newman, Carolyn C.
Publication:The Dental Assistant
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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