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How The Passion Project is bringing dental health awareness to the corners of the globe

Dental Health Awareness

Let’s be honest, we all kind of cringe at the thought of going to the dentist and in the U.S., having good oral health is engrained in our psyche as more of a chore than a privilege.

Despite this, dental disease is a serious issue that affects millions of children internationally. According to a 2016 Global Burden of Disease Study, over half of the world’s population suffer from oral diseases, that’s over 3.5 billion people fam!

Thankfully enough, there are a number of groups that are trying to combat this issue, one of which is The Passion Project, a blog showcasing global outreach missions that have blossomed through family ties.  

Twins Benjamin and Zachary Golub, 26, and older brother Michael Golub, 28, spearheads the project that aims to inspire, educate and raise oral health awareness. Amid being dental students at Tufts, the brothers fulfill numerous outreach trips each year to communities around the world that have limited infrastructure and resources.

It is a reality that has left said communities quite susceptible to dental disease. The brothers became weary of this disparity while they were youngins, growing up watching mom and dad combat the issue on the front lines while holding practices in northern New Jersey.

Now, if you’re skimming this, it might be easy to think that they got dragged into studying dentistry by their parents. But on the flip-side, it wasn’t until they actually got raw experience helping those in need, a passion was awoken in them individually.

“I think it’s interesting because people always ask us ‘did your parents force you into dentistry?’ Growing up we worked in the offices, we were exposed to what dentistry in America is like but then our parents invited us to come on some outreach trips to Jamacia and Guatemala. Seeing the impact that could have on a person and to a community that really needs it, I think that solidified in all of us that we really wanna go in this field and make a difference,” said Michael.  

While we’re living in an age where you can talk to a doctor on an app, it can be easy to take for granted the vast luxuries we have like having access to food that isn’t harsh on our teeth or being in close proximity to the dentist.

All three brothers went on their first outreach trips at different points in their lives and were touched by how they could help others. Living through these intimate and singular moments of helping the young and old living with preventable pain pushed them to carry on in their parents’ footsteps.

Drs. Jon Golub and Jamie Diament-Golub met while studying at Tufts Dental School in Massachusetts and have been doing humanitarian work around the world for well over a decade.

About 15 years ago, Jamie was volunteering as a Professor of Pediatric Dentistry at Colombia University and was asked to lead an outreach trip to Jamacia. The small island became a site that the family now visits annually and remains as one of their biggest trips. Soon after, she brought her husband and sons on future outreaches and the rest was history.

So what goes into an outreach trip exactly? A lot. Each trip takes months of planning, as every community inhabits different people with different needs. Most importantly, different levels of access.

In addition to Jamacia, the Golub clan has visited Cambodia, South Africa, Guatemala, Cape Verde, Haiti, and Nepal to not only help and educate but also creating sustainable upliftments.

“Community ties are a huge component of this because you can prep for a trip all you want, but the truth is, it’s not a one-size fits all. Different communities need different things depending on the food that they are eating, whether they have dental supplies or a testable dentist in the area. Community ties are everything because you need to be in touch with them all year round to see what they’ll need that particular week,” said Benjamin.

As a part of their process, the brothers look at the social determinants of health for each community and see what plays into their overall health in addition to their oral health.

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📍South Africa 🇿🇦| He says it best! 🥒🥕🥦🥬

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Above everything else, they align all of their efforts to what will help the people for now and the future.  This research on a community’s access plays a big role as sustainability is the primary goal.

Anyone can donate money to a good cause or help out for a short period of time, but for the Golubs, it’s more than that.

“The keyword really is sustainability. The last thing we want to do as an outreach group is go there, pull some teeth, get some people out of pain and leave. Which is why we emphasize oral health education and promotion. We make sure every child we see gets educated and gets a toothbrush, toothpaste, and supplies. We want to make sure we provide preventative care in addition to interceptive care as well,” said Zachary.

They want to make sure that each participant is getting just as much out of the program as what is being put in. Each outreach is registered with the government and the brothers are given temporary dental licenses beforehand.

The community is notified once the aid arrives as they wait in anticipation for The Passion Project to appear. In many cases, it will be the locals’ first visit to the dentist… Ever.

“Oftentimes, we’ll see children who have never been to a dentist before. It’s a challenge because we don’t want to just walk in, do our work and leave. We really want to focus on desensitizing them to a dental experience. We spend a lot of time before we do our actual work, introducing ourselves to every classroom of kids, explaining to them what we’re doing there, why dental health is important, brushing teeth, the foods you should/should not eat,” said Michael.

Imagine being a lil tot with an aching pain in your mouth that you’ve just been living with, day in, day out. Can you imagine not knowing a different reality? This imbalance in global dental health opens a window to more conversations about humanity around the world.

We all exist under the same sun but with very different definitions of “living.” In Zach’s words, The Passion Project extends beyond the pearly whites, it’s truly about the people and the heartbeat of every community.

“We’re treating the whole person, not just the oral cavity.”

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📍Jamaica🇯🇲 | When visiting a new site, it is crucial for us to understand the culture of the people we are treating. Often, this is the first step in understanding the dental history of the patients. As many of us know, sugar and carbohydrates lead to dental decay. In rural Jamaica, bag juice, which is sold in primary schools, is the culprit. Our education programs to every kid includes what foods and habits lead to a healthy mouth. The goal is to cut off the source of the problem before intervention becomes necessary. #sustainability #sweethtooth #volunteer #health #smile #oralhealth #protect #your #teeth #healthyfoods #dentistry #medicine #loveyoursmile #findyourpassion #sugar #candy #junkfood #nocavities

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While they are limited to what they can do from a public health standpoint, the Golubs put a lot of effort into ensuring that the work they do can have a lasting impact on the people they help.

This is why they tap into local networks of dental therapists and students. Along with the government, The Passion Project provides locals with a direct dental source in the community that can communicate the needs of the people to them prior to their arrival. Additionally, it spreads a wealth of health directly with the community in-between trips.

During each outreach, the brothers literally transform classrooms into clinics. While some sites are more difficult to improvise than others, they section off and make areas where patients can wait, be screened and receive preventative or surgical interventions.

In addition to locals, the Golubs are usually joined by fellow Tufts students, some faculty, and practicing dentists. The outreaches are personable and while they try their best, sometimes the demand is too high and they don’t get to see everyone in one day. This shows how much of a need there is for such care.

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Waiting for the docs 😷

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Michael recalled a heartbreaking scene from last year’s Jamacia trip,

“I was treating a 70-year old woman last year who walked for four hours uphill just to wait in line and see us.”

Doesn’t that make you appreciate the unused floss in the medicine cabinet? Beyond dental health, the Golubs wanted to share their journeys with the world via The Passion Project blog to show people the bigger picture and what it truly means to help others.

More than just a charity, The Passion Project isn’t set out to just raise money, they genuinely want to get in communities and help build sustainable practices from the inside-out.

A concept, that we can all apply to a multitude of causes.

“We really want to work on inspiring others to use their education and skills in a positive manner. Dentistry is just a small example of something we’ve found our niche in, but I feel like anybody that does anything could really get out there for the greater good,” said Zachary.    

There’s more to life and there are many ways to get involved and help communities that suffer from such issues than what may first come to mind. You don’t have to be an aspiring dentist to help out on an outreach trip. There are tons of volunteer opportunities in organizing, instruction, education and helping post-op patients.

Even if dental care may not trigger your emphatical part of being, at the end of the day, the Golubs hope that everyone can tap into a passion of theirs and bring it to life in any way that they can.

While the Golub brothers have certainly accomplished a lot through their humanitarian acts, the need for dental intervention and prevention is still present and so will the passion, behind The Passion Project.