By Jennifer Yet, RDH, DipDH, BScDH
Dental hygienists have specific skill sets in preventative dental health. We play a key role in promoting oral health and overall total health. However, there are many individuals who do not have the financial means or resources to access preventative dental services. Volunteer dental hygienists can help bridge this gap and offer solutions through community service outreach programs.
I started volunteering at Calgary Urban Project Society (CUPS) during my summers as a dental hygiene student. Clients at CUPS are low income, underserved and vulnerable. Many are working to overcome personal challenges and adversities, and oral health is no exception to the challenges that these individuals face. Several of the clients at CUPS have not been able to see a dentist in a long time, and some patients have never been to the dentist at all. Volunteer dental hygienists are often one of the first dental professionals they see who can help them on their path to obtaining improved dental health. I found that volunteering as a dental hygienist gave me valuable experience and exposure to the working world outside of an educational institution. I’ll never forget how appreciative many of my patients were after seeing their smile following years of calculus being removed. It was touching to see their expression of gratitude after being given a new toothbrush and a demonstration on the basics of homecare. Working with this population proved to be both a rewarding and humbling experience.
There is no greater personal sense of accomplishment than knowing that we have made a positive difference and impact on someone’s life. My time as a volunteer dental hygienist helped me develop compassion, empathy, and improved chair side manners. I had to step out of my comfort zone, which helped me develop my confidence as a clinician. Each volunteer experience and interaction at CUPS helped to reinforce my passion, meaning, and purpose as a healthcare professional. Volunteering as a dental hygienist allows us to feel empowered to provide ethical treatment to benefit those most at need.
No one should have to live with the pain and suffering of periodontal disease, decayed or abscessed teeth, yet many individuals continue to struggle with these issues on a daily basis. Many clients at CUPS are still waiting for the opportunity to receive the services of a dental hygienist; unfortunately there are not enough volunteers to meet the needs of the clinic. Perhaps, with more active volunteer participation from dental hygienists such as ourselves, we can be part of the solution to increasing access to preventative dental care services. There are numerous charitable opportunities to share our skills with others. When we open our hearts to others, we often find that we receive more out of these volunteer experiences than what we have given.