Medical mission trips, international medical volunteerism…call it what you like, medical professionals volunteering and serving in underserved areas around the world is a common (and positive!) reality today. Dentistry is well-represented in this arena. And for good reason.

The mouth is a key indicator of a person’s overall health. It can show signs of physical, emotional and even mental health. In some countries, there are few opportunities for adults and children to have access to dental care and oral hygiene education. This is where dentists can step in and make a difference.

The American Dental Association (ADA) recently held a volunteer workshop at the ADA headquarters for dentists and international dental volunteer organization leaders that focused on best practices and sustainability of international dental volunteerism efforts. Dr. Francis G Serio, the 2015 recipient of the ADA Humanitarian Award, was a key speaker.

"Everyone wants to volunteer but there’s more to it than packing your bag, pulling a few teeth, patting yourself on the back and coming home," he told attendees. Dr. Serio then set the goal of training, influence and establishing processes so that dental volunteerism is done correctly, "so people are not left worse off, including the people we are trying to help."

The two-day workshop focused on:

  • Prevention
  • Working with local communities
  • Building local capacity
  • Follow-up care
  • Sustainability

A rise in the popularity of medical mission trips and international medical volunteerism groups has highlighted the need to look at ethical and cultural considerations, including legal issues and the positive and negative impacts on the local community. The ADA plans to put together a best practices guide containing much of the material covered at this event.

The event was sponsored by the ADA Foundation, International College of Dentists, Academy of Dentistry International, Aseptico and Henry Schein. For dentists who are interested in receiving more information about international volunteerism or are looking for a volunteer opportunity, visit the AD Foundation’s volunteer website,

For dentists who may be looking for CE (continuing education) hours, a course on international volunteerism, "Volunteering Internationally: Contribute to Long-Term Improvements in Global Oral Health," will be offered during ADA 2018 to be held in Honolulu at 7:30 a.m. on Oct. 21. Visit for details.