Service in Guatemala Brightens Smiles Here and There
Larry Braithwaite, DDS of Provo, Utah, was looking for a change of pace and way to "give back a little" when he signed on as a member of a humanitarian medical team bringing dental care to remote villages in Guatemala. What he found breathed new life into his dental practice at home, and has given him, his staff and his patients a new sense of pride and purpose.
After more than 25 years in Dentistry, Dr. Braithwaite wanted to explore opportunities to help in an unconventional setting. Through a friend he learned of Hirsche Smiles Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides plastic and reconstructive surgery for children, and dental care and health education to families who don't have access to those services in underdeveloped countries. Dr. Braithwaite was intrigued by the idea and joined a team of dentists traveling to Guatemala.
The procedures were simple enough, he says. "The challenge was in getting the Guatemalan children to accept us and understand that we were safe and weren't going to hurt them."
In one small village the young women and children were ashamed to smile because of their rotten teeth and cavities. When Dr. Braithwaite finished and his patients saw the results, the good news spread fast and more came. "Even though they would rarely say a word to us, we were so alien to them, you could see how much they appreciated it."
Back home, Dr. Braithwaite's patients have stepped up to assist in their own way. Since the program requires that participants pay their own way, Dr. Braithwaite invited others to support the work. He offers half-off on the charge for teeth whitening and uses the proceeds to defray the various expenses of his pro-bono work. His patients have responded enthusiastically. "It heightens the respect my patients have for what I'm doing, they're a little prouder of their doctor." Dr. Braithwaite says. "They like to be part of making something like that happen." For Dr. Braithwaite, the personal benefits of his work reach far beyond the positive reactions he gets from others. His work in Guatemala has breathed new life into his career, enabling him to enjoy being a hometown dentist and feel that he is making a meaningful contribution in the larger world. "There are opportunities all around to help," he says. "When we contribute our dentistry skills to humanitarian causes, it's a win-win activity. It can give you a new outlook on your profession and what you can do."