Local dentists enjoy ful-‘filling’ experiences
By Chandler Jenkins, Special to the Citizen 07/28/11
Dentists throughout Henrico County are traveling across the globe with different organizations, using their professional talents to improve the lives of poor citizens in countries around the world.
For about 15 years, Kenneth Stoner, a dentist with a private practice on West Broad Street, has made regular trips to countries such as Kenya, Peru, Guatemala and Honduras in an effort to help those without dental care in underprivileged areas. Stoner often makes these trips once a year and occasionally twice a year.
Stoner (pictured above during a trip) has made his trips with Grace Community Baptist Church and Vessels of Mercy, an organization located in Henrico County. Vessels of Mercy is a nonprofit relief and development organization that aids poverty stricken areas of the world through physical and spiritual wholeness. It provides medical, dental and vision care as well as other means of help such as construction projects to aid those most in need of assistance.
Vessels of Mercy Director Beverly Gibson has led a number of mission trips during the past 30 years to 140 different countries. Stoner has accompanied the organization on four different occasions (three times to Honduras and once to Guatemala).
“God is our inspiration," Gibson said. "We want to show our love of Jesus Christ, not just tell others, by giving back and helping alleviate poverty and suffering. Seeing people’s lives changed – both those on the trip and those whose lives we are helping to be more self-sustaining – is the most gratifying piece of these trips.”
Participating dentists must bring with them their own supplies and tools necessary to carry out such services as cleaning, extracting, and fillings. Dentists also teach oral hygiene education and diet counseling to the citizens of the communities they visit.
Although the dentists serve all types of people in the regions they visit, they most commonly aid those living in the poorest areas.
“Most commonly in Africa we served people in the Quarry ghetto on the outskirts of Nairobi," Stoner said. "We also served squatters of Masai and other tribes in Kenya. In Peru, we traveled up 13,000 feet where we served the mountain people. These people are the poorest of the poor.”
The types of services the dentists can provide for the natives in places they visit depends on the availability of electricity in the areas and whether or not they are able to transport their supplies to the remote areas.
Because the trips are voluntary, dentists go with the intent of helping those in need and in return, they receive rewarding experiences.
“The most rewarding aspect of the trips is the smile on the face of the parents when they see their child’s pain from abscessed teeth relieved,” said Stoner.
Sharing a gift
Another local dentist who participates in similar trips is Dr. Kanyon Keeney, an oral surgeon with Niamtu, Alexander, Keeney, Harris, Metzger, Dymon and Associates who specializes in injuries of the mouth and face.
Keeney has been traveling to foreign countries to give dental care to others for 23 years. In all, he has been to seven countries, including Guatemala four times and Haiti – his most frequent destination – eight times.
In the past, Keeney has traveled with West End Assembly of God, a church in Henrico County, and Needles Eye Ministry, a “marketplace ministry” that reaches out to working people in the hopes of touching them with God’s plan for themselves in their profession. Currently, he is traveling with Christian Services International, an evangelical interdenominational Christian organization.
Keeney last visited Port au Prince, Haiti during the week after the destructive 2010 earthquake.
“The most memorable experience I have had on the trips I have been on happened after the earthquake in Haiti," he said. "I saw people who had lost so much, but yet they were getting up to help others as soon as they were able. They had nothing but were so willing to help. It was just a remarkable experience."
Keeney described his experiences as rewarding and extremely gratifying.
“I am so appreciative for all the blessings in my life," he said. "I’ve been given a gift and to be able to share that gift with others is a gift for me."
Other Henrico dentists are staying closer to home and traveling to different states around the country with Missions of Mercy (MOM).
MOM is supported by America’s Dentist Care Foundation, which began in 2000. It enables states to give care to people in need of dental care during a two-day clinic. Volunteer dentists are endorsed by their state organizations as they travel to different states with MOM. In Virginia, the Virginia Dental Association (VDA) endorses the Henrico dentists and others in the state.
VDA began endorsing the MOM projects in 1999. Dr. Terry Dickinson, Executive Director of VDA, has been on 50 MOM trips, including to New Orleans after hurricane Katrina devastated the area; North Carolina; Maryland; Texas; and Kansas. This year, his 12th year traveling with MOM, he and dentists from throughout Virginia went to Wise County, Va. They camped out on the fairgrounds there and stayed for three days. Patients from Virginia and 14 other states came to receive free dental and oral care that they would not otherwise receive.
Typically, once a team of dentists has traveled to one area, they do not return to the same place. That's because the mission of MOM is to get the community involved to create sustainable solutions to problems to help people change their habits. Once a community has a solution, the dentists travel somewhere else.
“Dentistry is not only a job, but it is a responsibility and obligation to give something back," said Dickinson. "I think having so many Henrico dentists involved in these projects is a great reflection on their values. It changes lives. We’re not just filling a tooth. We see a smile on a face with a new outlook to make them feel worthwhile.
“It’s a real gift to be a part of."
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