In March 2023, Oral Health published an article entitled “Seal Grenada: We Can Do This!” In that article, I talked about how a private-public partnership was formed based on a call to action from one of Grenada’s top dentists, Dr. Julie Du Bois, to help seal the teeth of the children of Grenada.
Grenada is a tiny Caribbean Island of about 125,000 souls. Known as the “Spice Island,” Grenada exports some of the best nutmeg, cinnamon, turmeric, bananas, and chocolate worldwide. It’s safe and politically stable, and its people are humble, caring and community-oriented.
The idea behind Seal Grenada was that, by proactively tackling dental issues now among the kids (through regularly placing sealants, applying fluoride, and providing oral hygiene education and toothbrushes and toothpaste, etc.), we could avoid reacting to bigger oral health care problems during their adult years. And because of its small size, we could have a major impact to showcase what we’ve done as an example for the world to follow.
We aimed for a 5-day pilot project to occur at a local primary school when the kids were still in school (e.g., September 2023).
Those are the best intentions, for sure. But executing the plan was not going to be easy!
When that Oral Health article was first published, we had NO dental volunteers. Also, the cost of flights to and from Grenada increased drastically because of increased global travel demand (more so than ever). That created a huge financial barrier to recruiting dental volunteers considering coming down.
Plus, we were still internally debating clinical matters and the logistics of how to run the program. Such as which sealant materials to use, what treatment protocols to follow, where to physically set up, when we could run the program, etc. Although we had veteran Caribbean sealant program coordinators/volunteers on the Seal Grenada committee (including Leanne Rodine of Alberta Health Services and Dr. Brian Holmes of Spice Isle Smiles), we needed a big team of dental professionals to make it all happen.
And to top it all off, when we finally did receive our dates, they were all in August when the kids were out of school! Now, there was a real risk that the program would flail or fail because parents wouldn’t bring their kids out to the clinic during the summer break.
Suffice it to say: the barriers seemed too big and too many. And with time running out and people planning their summer vacations, it wasn’t looking feasible. Perhaps we could try again in a future year? Sorry, Grenada and Dr. Du Bois, but it just wasn’t meant to be for 2023.
Miracles Make Miracles
But the dawn only comes after the darkest hours of the night. And faith gave way to miracles.
The first miracle came when the Seal Grenada team decided to put money where everyone’s mouths were (pun intended – lol!). Key partners fundraised to help offset the high costs of flights for Seal Grenada volunteers. Financial barrier: removed!
Then, a second miracle: Bev Woods (one of Canada’s leading philanthropic hygienists and executive director of Gift from The Heart, a not-for-profit that strives to improve access to oral health care for Canadians) got involved and started recruiting dental hygienists.
And wowza, did she move fast and impactfully! She hit the road and talked about Seal Grenada to whomever she could, spreading the message on social media. She also communicated regularly with volunteers through email, phone calls, WhatsApp, and regular video calls. She was amazing and exactly what we all needed.
Then came another miracle. Kelly Turner and Shelley Getty, Fanshawe Dental Hygiene College Professors, reached out after reading the Oral Health article. They wanted to get their dental hygiene school involved to send dental hygiene and assisting students to the Caribbean (including to Grenada for Seal Grenada) to volunteer and earn credit! And they helped recruit fellow professors to come down for the pilot Seal Grenada project.
Between Bev, Kelly, and Shelly we were able to recruit all the Canadian hygienists that we needed to move forward with the program that August – and with no time to spare! And when one of Canada’s foremost dental authorities on sealants, public health, and charitable dentistry – the one and only Dr. Sanjukta Mohanta – decided to volunteer with Seal Grenada as well, we had all of our bases covered. Talk about the best possible team of dental professionals that Canada could ever hope to send down to Grenada! Game On!
Then, more miracles. Dr. Khan Nedd (a Grenadian-born U.S. medical doctor, entrepreneur, and community leader) helped to offset the financial costs of promoting Seal Grenada locally leading up to the launch. The Sandals Foundation and the Adam Stewart family generously donated rooms, meals/drinks, and amenities at their 5* all-inclusive luxury resort Sandals Grenada for FREE to our Seal Grenada volunteers (and arranged for all transportation throughout the trip). Henry Schein Cares generously donated the sundries we needed. Great Shape! Inc., a U.S.-based not-for-profit, helped to set up and administer the temporary sealant clinic on the ground at Corinth Primary Government School in Grenada. And local partners – including the Grenadian Dental Association, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Health – all stepped up to do their part to get parents to bring their kids to our clinic.
In just five clinical days (August 28 to September 1, 2023), 14 dental and hygiene volunteers from Canada and the U.S. treated 592 patients, placed 2,918 sealants, applied 504 fluoride treatments, performed 41 fillings and 23 extractions, and applied Silver Diamine Fluoride (SDF) to 277 teeth. Our little 8-op clinic was so surprisingly busy that we (unfortunately) had to turn patients away on a daily basis! The success of our pilot project shocked us all.
Beyond the Numbers
But patients aren’t just numbers. And professionals aren’t just titles. We went down there to treat people, not just teeth. And it’s the memorable one-on-one stories from volunteers’ experiences that stay with us throughout our lives. Teaching us through a common experience about what it means to be a good human.
One such experience happened with Kelly Turner when a young boy named Michael sat in her chair. He needed a sealant in all four quadrants. Per Kelly:
“You could tell that he had been traumatized in the dental chair. He was afraid of ‘the needle’ and ‘the drill’. So, I took my time and explained that we were just placing sealants. I showed him my instruments and sundries. I let him inspect and touch everything to build trust. I gave him a mirror to follow along and asked him to suction so he could participate. He asked a lot of questions. I reassured him nothing was going to hurt. And we developed a trusting relationship. He lost his fear, and we had lots of fun together. Afterwards, I talked to him about brushing, and he got a care package to take home. He was so happy. Ultimately, he had a positive dental experience, which I felt he had never had before. And I hope he holds onto that throughout his life.”
AMAZING! BUT WE NEED YOU!
Based on the success of the pilot Seal Grenada program, Dr. Julie Du Bois, Bev Woods, Kelly Turner, Shelley Getty, Dr. Sanjukta Mohanta, Leanne Rodine, Dr. Brian Holmes, and many others are now pushing to expand its frequency, size, and operational efficiency. More weeks, more volunteers, more operatories, oral health education and making healthy food choices in school curriculums, etc. To this end, we will definitely need Canadian hygienists to join Seal Grenada to do their part!
Importantly, Kelly Turner and Shelley Getty and the other Fanshawe professors who volunteered are now working with others at Fanshawe towards formalizing a program where Fanshawe gives credit and a bursary ($800 per student) to dental hygiene and assisting students to volunteer in Grenada. It would be amazing if more of Ontario’s dental hygiene schools also jumped on the bandwagon to help out in Grenada and the other countries where we run dental / hygiene clinics (e.g. Jamaica, St. Lucia, Turks & Caicos, and soon: Sint Maarten).
That would be a huge win for all. The volunteers – hygienist supervisors and students – would develop real clinical and chairside skills. It would also make them appreciate how good they have it in Canada. They’d see how others with much less material wealth and opportunities still live happy lives and how grateful they are to be seen by a hygienist or a dentist. Grenadians are a caring, humble, and community-based people. It’s the best in the world, in my opinion, right up there with Canadians. And by giving back, our volunteers would give themselves the best gift possible: sharing their skills, time and energy with those in need is profoundly satisfying to one’s soul.
Seal Grenada is a miracle that makes miracles. It started off with a simple call to action and dwindling hope. But, based on our faith, it became more real than real. And now it will continue to grow. It’s a tiny example to help raise the collective vibration of the entire world by showing how people can proactively and cost-effectively address long-term dental issues for an entire country so we don’t end up reacting there with expensive band-aid solutions in the future.
And that’s where you come in: we need the continued year-over-year support of Canadian hygienists, dentists, hygiene students, and others. We can make a real difference for an entire country in a short period of time, and we are tracking and will publish the statistics to prove it all works. If you’re interested in joining Seal Grenada or volunteering at our big 20+ operatory dental clinic (which runs simultaneously with Seal Grenada), please contact the author. In doing so, you’ll be making more miracles.
About the Author
Michael is a founding partner of DMC LLP, Canada’s largest dental-only law firm that helps dentists sell and buy practices in Ontario. Michael leads DMC’s annual Caribbean dental mission trips (Grenada, Jamaica, and Turks) Michael is now organizing Sint Maarten and Philippines dental outreach trips for 2023. Michael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 647.680.9530.