For Student, Dental Mission to the Dominican Republic Leaves Lasting Imprint

Tiffany Yau holds a gift from a pediatric dental mission patient in the Dominican Republic.

RSDM’s global missions are funded by donors’ generous gifts. Their impact on student doctors, like Tiffany Yau, is profound. She is one of many dedicated and compassionate students that you can support.

Tiffany Yau will never forget the 14-year-old patient whose front teeth were fractured by physical abuse. They met during RSDM’s annual dental mission to the Dominican village of La Romana.

“Most of the time, these types of injuries are sports-related but her’s happened when she had an object thrown at her face,’’ Yau recalls. “I really wanted to do right by her and give her a smile that would help erase that. Every time she looked at her smile, it was a reminder of what she had been through.’’

Although it was Yau’s first esthetic case, treatment was a success. When she showed her patient the results, the girl’s smile conveyed only happiness. “I saw her transformed from someone who was very shy and didn’t like to talk to someone with a lot of confidence. It showed me how dentistry can help someone reclaim their smile after a traumatic experience,’’ says Yau.

In La Romana, students treat pediatric patients from a local school and orphanage. Many have parents who work in the sugar cane fields and can’t afford dental care, which is often inaccessible. This year, a team of students, faculty and alumni treated more than 150 patients, performing everything from fillings to root canals and extractions.

The annual trip is one of three annual RSDM dental missions that happen during Spring Break. A surgical mission to repair cleft palates and other conditions for patients in South Asia is often scheduled both in the fall and spring. For more than a decade, students have also worked in clinics out west, treating Native Americans each August.

Trips like these leave a lasting imprint on students, who gain an understanding of global healthcare inequities and cultural differences in attitudes toward oral health. Patients also have their lives transformed by procedures that end pain and disfigurement. Others receive preventive care and oral health education.

Yau describes what she gained from her experience. “This has taught me that compassion is the universal language. I learned the importance of cultural sensitivity, of getting to know where your patients come from and learning to communicate with them as well as you can. They say dentists are in the business of making people smile, but this experience brought me so much joy.”