A volunteer dental clinic can be an invaluable resource for people living in areas with significant oral health inequality. As a dental professional, you may already have a passion for community service working with children or another vulnerable group. But how can you get involved in community projects, such as mobile dental clinics or volunteering in schools? Follow these tips to volunteer your time and skills effectively.
If you're wondering how to find areas and people in need, volunteer opportunities often arise when you reach out to your local community. Speak to the parents of your pediatric patients about possible opportunities at their children's schools, and ask for an introduction to school staff. Offering your time to run a one-day clinic or deliver educational assemblies is something many schools will be excited to take advantage of.
To forge even more volunteering connections, you can connect with after-school clubs, scout organizations or other children's groups. Administrators often jump at the chance of having a visit from a professional for both oral health promotion and the opportunity to show children a new career path.
Volunteering can be a sector where business skills and a will to hustle are important. You may be the best clinician around, but many volunteering programs require good managerial and leadership skills, and often skillful negotiation. For example, if you want to run a charitable screening program or an oral health educational program in a school, you may be looking for equipment or donations from companies. Connect with reps from the industry, local practices that may wish to contribute and local dental networks to either promote the program you are involved with or to find a new group to volunteer with.
Another option is to join an international volunteer dental clinic program. Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures, for example, provides free dental screenings and oral health education for children. The program has reached more than 900 million children and their families across 80 countries.
In some regions, the program involves a fleet of mobile dental vans that travel to hard-to-reach communities. This kind of effort is only possible because of financial support for the program and dental professionals volunteering their time.
Once you're involved in a program, record what you do. Snap pictures, blog about your work and take note of any feedback you receive. This can help you improve your skills and records your volunteer work so that you can promote it on social media or add it to your CV. If you work with dental associations or companies that donate resources, share your notes and online promotions with them to strengthen your relationship for potential future collaborations.
Ultimately, working in a volunteer dental clinic can be very rewarding. You may see people with high dental needs who would not otherwise have been able to see dental professionals. Your efforts as a dental volunteer can make a huge impact on your community and anywhere you choose to travel!