Having always wanted to go on a missions trip, Dr. Shalom Benzaquen got his chance when he happened to spot an opportunity to go to Uganda treating people in impoverished rural communities who have little to no access to dental care.
A first year GPR resident at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in New York City at the time, he was about to embark on a journey that would change his life in ways he never expected. He wrote about how the experience affected him, and his article was published in the Second Dental District Society’s SDDS Bulletin. He was then surprised to learn that the article was recognized by the International College of Dentist’s annual journalism awards in the category of Humanitarian Service.
The two-week trip was hosted by Build Your Smile Dental Foundation, led by Dr. Izchak Barzilay (Prostho ‘86, MS ‘91). Eastman alumni Dr. Carlo Ercoli (Prostho ‘96, Perio ‘12, MBA ‘19) chair, Prosthdontics Department, and Dr. Evangelos Rossopoulos (Prostho ‘84) are also involved Foundation’s leadership and attended the trip. The group, which included prosthodontists, periodontists, general dentists, dental students, denturists, dental technicians, dental hygienists and dental assistants, traveled to several locations to help as many people as possible. “We provided screenings, oral hygiene instruction, fluoride treatment, dental scaling, operative procedures, extractions, implant restorations, and even dentures.”
For many, this would be the only dentist they would see for many months or even years.
“One patient, with a very painful dental abscess, walked all morning with her young child,” recalled Dr. Benzaquen. “She reached us just as we were closing for the day. She noted that the hospital in the big cities many miles away would be the only alternative care she might receive. Dr. Benzaquen stayed into the evening to treat her abscess.
“Shalom was a very valuable part of our outreach and added so much to the experience for everyone,” said Dr. Barzilay, the Foundation’s CEO.
Dr. Benzaquen was struck at how much the team was able to accomplish in each of the rural communities under such short time constraints.
“A number of patients became emotional once receiving their new teeth and explained that this procedure made the difference in them being married or not,” he said. “The expressions of appreciation, smiles, and tears of joy by the patients we treated in every community truly touched me. It was a tremendously rewarding experience.
“The collaborative, supportive environment and camaraderie among the team members really made the experience one to remember,” he added.
Though Dr. Benzaquen was interested in the field of prosthodontics, he said the Uganda experience definitely inspired him to apply to Eastman's program, as he was able to witness the close alumni relations first-hand.
Now, as a first year prosthodontics resident at EIOH, he enjoys being part of an institution with an excellent reputation, access to state of the art digital technology, the close-knit group of alumni, as well as being close to home.
“Ultimately,” he added, “my experience also provided me a greater appreciation for the life I am afforded living in North America with access to medical and dental care and has given me the impetus to keep giving back.”