As Tzu Chi Dental Outreaches Get Revamped, Patients in Las Vegas Find Relief

TIMA  |  January 24, 2022
A volunteer dentist puts a young patient at ease at a Tzu Chi Dental Outreach on December 5, 2021 in Las Vegas, NV. Photo/Shuli Lo

Written by Shirley Chen and Sylvia Wihardjo
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Dilber Shatursun

In providing access to free dental services to underinsured and uninsured populations, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation, or Tzu Chi Medical, never compromises on its quality of care. This is why we work with dental practitioners we trust, but also with equipment and tools that are up to date and meet our standards for excellence. Providing this care was no exception in Las Vegas, Nevada this past December.

Dr. Shirley Chen, the director of Tzu Chi USA’s Medical Development Department, emphasizes this point:

Free dental clinics should not be sloppy in terms of equipment and tools. Without good equipment, even the best doctors and assistants cannot complete dental treatment well.

Dr. Shirley Chen, director of the Medical Development Department, Tzu Chi USA, guides dental volunteers. Photo/Shuli Lo

At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic presented many challenges in providing care in a safe manner. However, taking the appropriate precautions, including mask wearing and social distancing where possible, the Tzu Chi Dental team organized a Dental Outreach on December 5, 2021 at Rancho High School in Las Vegas. Local dental practitioners and dental students were invited to partake in the event.

From California, Dr. Chen led fellow Tzu Chi Medical volunteers to load and transport a truck of dental equipment, including exam chairs, generators, compressors, wires, and computers. After eight hours, the supplies reached their destination and were carefully unloaded and organized with Dr. Chen’s supervision.

Getting Organized & Making Upgrades

During the pandemic, the team began upgrading its equipment and transportation methods to move in pallet-like blocks. This helps save time, effort, and ensures that all items including tools are ready for use and well organized. “We spent more than half a year repairing all the damaged equipment and replenishing some insufficient equipment,” elaborates Dr. Chen.

Pallet-like units are easily transported for easy loading and unloading of vital dental equipment. Photos/Shuli Lo

On how they made it even easier for any type of volunteer to maneuver through the sea of drawers, tools, and all, Dr. Chen explains:

The most important thing is that we use a color coding system to distinguish all the equipment. This way, whether doctors, non-professionals, or even volunteers, can get started quickly after receiving the training, so that the dental outreach can be carried out smoothly.

Color coding helps save valuable time for volunteers in search of the right tools and materials for dental service. Photo/Shuli Lo

Rallying for Helping Hands

In addition to solid equipment and tools, the key to a successful dental outreach also requires the hard work and time of volunteer professional dentists, dental assistants, hygienists, and additional helping hands.

Las Vegas-based dentist Phan Nguyen, DDS is deputy convener of this dental outreach. Relying on his local contacts, reached out to 27 dentists, dental students, and community volunteers, including those from Panda in the Community, to join the effort. Serving patients in Clark County, Nevada and serving alongside Tzu Chi for many years, he recognized TIMA’s support:

Thank you very much to the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) for bringing supplies from Los Angeles to support this Las Vegas dental outreach. All the supplies and equipment are great and very helpful for what we’re trying to achieve.

Volunteers busy at work with patients at the Tzu Chi Dental Outreach. Photos/Shuli Lo

Humble Beginnings and an Ambitious Future

When dental services were first offered by Tzu Chi Medical in Southern California, equipment was often borrowed or rented from other facilities/suppliers. Yet, after years of hard work and donations from the public, Tzu Chi Medical was able to purchase its own. Dr. Phan emphasizes this effort

In the near future, Tzu Chi Medical hopes to extend its dental services to Las Vegas residents on a more consistent basis with the establishment of a Dental Clinic at the Tzu Chi Las Vegas Service Center. Dr. Phan expresses his hope for this progress: “we are fortunate to have raised funds. In the future, we will be able to purchase the equipment needed for the [Tzu Chi Las Vegas] Dental Clinic, so we don’t have to borrow equipment anymore.”

Treating Patients in Need

Among those who visited the doctor that day were five family members of a patient named Liliana. Unfortunately, none of them had had dental insurance coverage for quite some time, forcing them to forgo checkups and regular teeth cleanings. However, she saw information online that free dental services would be provided by Tzu Chi and arrived at the event with her relatives to receive help.

“My husband came here for deep cleaning and fillings. My teeth have been causing headaches, abscesses, and much discomfort, so we’re hoping to fix that today,” Liliana described. She added the importance of their being there: “we heard it’s possible to get dental work here without insurance and receive treatment to make sure everyone’s teeth can be treated.”

Volunteers from Las Vegas and the team who went to help from Tzu Chi USA National Headquarters take a group photo to celebrate the successful conclusion of the Dental Clinic. Photography/Shuli Lo

Every new step may always come with difficulty; however, volunteers worked happily together to treat patients’ pains. With such a successful event now under their belt, the team that came together to serve in Las Vegas is eager to and confident in moving forward.

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