Dental volunteering opportunities are everywhere. Though you may not think you can accomplish big things as a student, there are hosts of volunteer openings in your own community and abroad. With a few resources to guide you, you can find the opportunity that is right for you.
Dental patients in need are far from scarce. The World Health Organization reports that 60 to 90 percent of school-aged children in most industrialized nations still develop dental caries, as do a majority of adults. One-quarter to one-half of the elderly population in many nations experience edentulism.
With access to care and preventive oral health practices, however, this burden of dental disease can decrease. Wherever you are in your dental career journey, you can be a part of changing the future of dental disease and filling the world with healthy smiles.
Before exploring volunteer opportunities, it is important to explore your motivations. Do you hope to help others or is your motivation more focused on working with a team on a public health initiative?
You should ask yourself whether it is more important to you to make a change in your own city several times a year or month, or to travel to impact oral health globally, perhaps only once during your studies. Exploring your goals for volunteering will help you narrow the vast number of dental volunteer opportunities. You should also consider the cost, as many overseas volunteer opportunities require volunteers to pay for their own travel expenses which can mount up when traveling afar.
With volunteering on your mind, it's time to find the positions that are waiting for an eager student like you! One place to start is your dental school's own clubs and organizations. Ask mentors and fellow students if they know about a local clinic in need or an upcoming service trip.
Another great resource is the American Student Dental Association. The European Dental Students' Association also offers links to volunteer opportunities for dental professionals in training. If you have an interest in pediatric dentistry, Give Kids A Smile has expanded as a volunteer pediatric dental program across the United States. A simple search can help you volunteer at one in your area.
Dental volunteering can even take place outside a dental clinic setting, with education, fundraising, and donation opportunities at every school, family event and health fair in your area. Ask local schools or community events if they have room for an oral care demonstration.
You can participate in, and create your own, opportunities by bringing oral care education into the community you serve. Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures is an opportunity to do just that, and has reached more than 1 billion children across 80 countries. This program provides free dental screenings and oral health education. It also includes materials that you can download and use in schools and other settings to help children learn about oral health and caring for their mouths.
Remember that you are caring for a community. As always, you should have their interests and health in mind. You are doing great work, and the community is teaching you in ways you can't even imagine. Seek dental volunteer opportunities as a student and broaden your experiences and perspectives in dentistry, always serving from a place of humility and respect.