Local dentist spent Memorial Day treating patients in the Dominican Republic
Dr. Kevin Tri, DDS, had never gone on a mission trip before. But when he heard about an opportunity to travel to the Dominican Republic for five days with 18 other dental surgeons from across the country, he knew it was a trip he wanted to take.
"It was the right time for me," he said.
Tri was attending a mini residency on implant and reconstructive bone surgeries on the east coast when the dentistry mission trip became available. He made the trip the week of Memorial Day.
The Dominican Republic is located southeast of Florida in the Caribbean Sea. It shares a border with Haiti. There's a large disparity of wealth, Tri said, making it very nearly a two-class society. Dental care, therefore, is a luxury that only those in the upper class or dwarfed middle class can afford. For the majority of the population, dentistry is simply out of reach, Tri said.
"These people really don't have a chance," he said.
He and his fellow surgeons, along with 15 support staffers and a handful of surgeons local to the Dominican Republic donated three days of surgery to anyone who needed care, at no cost to the patients. They saw about 100 patients a day, Tri said, and the hours were brutal - 14 hours of surgery each day with 15-minute lunch breaks.
"And I never got hungry," he recalled. Nor did he feel tired, at least not until he got home.
The surgeries included implant and reconstructive bone and tissue procedures. Some patients traveled more than four hours and waited 10 hours to see a dentist, and several had been living with extreme dental conditions that drastically affected their lives.
"We were able to restore function to patients who were dental cripples," Tri said, "bringing them hope and a greatly improved quality of life. Allowing them to once again chew food, for some, something they had not been able to do for decades. For others who had lost a front tooth and bone in an accident, brought a new lease on life with an implant supported tooth, allowing them to smile again with confidence."
Most dentists will only do about half a dozen implants in their entire residency, Tri said. In three days, he placed more than 40 implants and got to use advanced techniques in bone grafting and sinus lifts.
"Now I'm comfortable doing some pretty exotic stuff," he said.
Tri said he plans on incorporating some of the surgical techniques he used in the Dominican Republic into his practice here in Hastings at River Valley Dental. He's been restoring implants for 22 years, he said, but had avoided surgical implant placement and bone grafting and augmentation.
What struck Tri most about his trip wasn't the skills he learned. It was the people he cared for.
"I can't say enough about the patients down there," he said.
Their gratitude was inspiring - such as a man who was both deaf and mute who served them food from a cooler he brought along. Every patient left with smiles and hugs for their doctors, even those who underwent a five-hour procedure.
"I found this missionary work very gratifying and am planning to volunteer more such care to third world countries to care for the poor and underserved," Tri said. "This experience energized my soul and renewed my love for dentistry."
Tri is waiting to hear back on a trip to Uganda that had been planned for later this year, and he's planning on attending another trip next year through Creighton University, where he attended dental school.
Earning top honors
Along with expanding his surgical capabilities, Tri was awarded the American Dental Implant Association's level of Diplomate Jan. 22 in Las Vegas. Becoming a diplomate is the highest achievement a dentist can be awarded in the organization.
To achieve this level, a doctor must be an active member in the association and practice implant dentistry for at least five years. It also requires 350 continuing education hours be obtained through courses given by implant seminars and the association as well as in other dental implant education programs.
Earning the diplomate certification is a high point in Tri's career, he said.