Ten years ago I heard about the Hand in Hand dental clinics in Armenia from a colleague. I was intrigued by the concept of the free dental care they delivered for the people in Karabaugh. As a pediatric dentist, I inquired about their program offering dental care for children and soon after volunteered to help in the effort. This October 2015 will by my seventh visit to Armenia. Volunteering in this project has been both a joyful and life changing experience.
My first year, I was unsure as to what to expect, and was a bit concerned on how I might be accepted.
I began by giving two lectures at the International Dental Congress in Yerevan, followed by one at a local clinic. I immediately recognized a thirst for more education in pediatric dentistry. Two days later I made a trip to Karabaugh; this was a very special experience. I lectured a full day to the local dentists and the dedicated staff at the Hand in Hand clinics. I then had the opportunity to observe care being administered in the clinics. It was absolutely heartwarming. I left feeling accepted and appreciated for my contribution.
Over the years doing school screenings, I have seen the severity of dental disease. There is a great need for restorative and preventive dentistry.
I am proud and honored to help improve Armenia’s level of dental care and oral health by mentoring these fine dental professionals. Meeting with the health ministers to discuss our findings and recommendations and having their support is gratifying. I have found a certain congeniality here that I find nowhere else.
You might think it unusual for a non-Armenian to visit annually. I am asked that question frequently. Over the years I have developed a fondness and love for the country and its people. Their appreciation for our contributions and visits is abundant. The patients, the staff at the clinics, the local dentists, and the public officials are always so welcoming.
My experiences in Armenia go beyond the Hand in Hand clinics. I have visited many areas of the country: from Yerevan to Lake Savan, from the Holocaust Memorial to the beauty of the countryside, from Etchmiadzin to Ghazanchetsots, from the tram in Tatev to the streets of Shushi, from the Vernissage to the street vendors across the country. Every experience has provided fond memories.
When I reflect on each visit, I get excited and look forward to my next one! I pray that each one of you has such an opportunity to visit Armenia in the future.
Arnold I Weiss, DDS, MScD, FACD
Dr. Weiss is a pediatrics dentist at The Center For Pediatric Dental Care and Orthodontics in Brookline, MA, USA.