Connecting the Dots and Changing the Future

By Anne Baer
Photos by Dave Amodt

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Some people from other regions walked for hours to reach this outdoor clinic, which was in a government-run school.

When you look at a globe, you notice all the methods for marking boundaries and giving you a sense of your relative location. One particular method-longitude and latitude-tells you where you are at any point on Earth. For Dr. Greg Dumitru, this sense of place was brought into sharp focus during his first visit to Morocco. Although on opposite sides of the globe, his hometown of Mesquite, Nevada, and Casablanca, Morocco, share similar latitudes. Maybe that was why he was surprisingly relaxed as his 4-wheel-drive vehicle rumbled out of the city and toward his destination about 10 hours southeast of Casablanca.

What was not familiar was the abject poverty of most people he met. Although we may think of Morocco as beautifully austere, sheltered by the Atlas Mountains and dotted with colorful marketplaces, reality for most people is harsh poverty and a severe lack of services. “There is a layer of very wealthy citizens, but it does not trickle down to most of the population,” explains Dr. Dumitru. Traveling to help was a natural extension of Dr. Dumitru’s path. From the start of his dental career, Dr. Dumitru has cared for impoverished dental patients, working right out of dental school primarily on Medicaid patients before he opened a state-of-the-art practice in Nevada.

But why Morocco? Simple answer: connections. Dr. Dumitru was initially invited by a friend he met while in Zion National Park on vacation. Their friendship started in the most serendipitous way. While riding a park shuttle to a trailhead they struck up a conversation asking, “Where’s home for you?” Dr. Dumitru’s curiosity grew when his friend answered, “Morocco and Southern California.” They ended up sharing the day hiking, and their conversation gave birth to a dream to get Dr. Dumitru to Morocco.

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One of 80 patients seen this day. Multiple unrestorable teeth were extracted, relieving pain for the patient.

Simultaneously, Dr. Dumitru had another connection in St. George, Utah, who was dreaming of ways to start a clinic to serve the Berber people. “Through my church, I met a great group of people inspired to serve in challenging and forgotten corners of the world. I also felt called to encourage people already ministering in daunting places like Morocco, enhancing their ministry by meeting their needs. I thought, ‘If we don’t go, who will?’” In preparation for the first trip, group members were required to meet several times to explore their reasons for going and to prepare for entering a completely different culture. This practice has continued with subsequent trips. “As a team member, you really walk away from the trip learning more about yourself. You experience people and circumstances radically different than in your own life. I see it as a chance to lead the world in a positive way, shining light in dark areas of deep need.”

The two dreams merged when Dr. Dumitru first visited Morocco to investigate what was needed. As he describes it, “We went to one village where the homes were made out of stones and mud, really like being transported back to Biblical times. I was supposed to be leading a toothbrushing clinic, but not one of them had a toothbrush. They just used sticks!” Dr. Dumitru happened to have a small tackle box with a few dental items in it. It came in handy that evening. As he recalls, “First, there was a kid with a bad tooth, then someone who had another problem. We ended up seeing 30 people that night. It broke my heart. They have nothing, and live in such pain-both physically and spiritually.”

Armed with a list of basic items, Dr. Dumitru returned to the US and started organizing. Now, he travels with a fully portable, mobile dental system from I TEC including chair, battery, and hand drill–all of which fit into a backpack. Dr. Dumitru points out, “Everything is completely mobile at this point. I am working to establish clinics in partnership with other service organizations, particularly for the handicapped and for street women–two groups shunned by tribal society.” In addition to the mobile system he takes, he has two A-dec military-style portable units in Morocco that he leaves with friends. Preparation was aided by Burkhart’s service tech, Akio Kafka, who set up the units and tested them prior to Dr. Dumitru’s trips. Kay Parker, his Burkhart Account Manager, also pitched in contacting manufacturers and securing donations of masks, gloves, mouthwash, toothpaste, cotton rolls, and toothbrushes. “I met one schoolteacher in a remote village who now uses Burkhart toothbrushes to guide children in caring for their teeth for the very first time.”

The next logical step is creating permanent solutions, either by building clinics or providing mobile ones. In response to the need yet another connection in Morocco stepped forward, offering funding through the United Arab Emirates Health Ministry. As a result, Dr. Dumitru was asked to write a $500,000 grant proposal for a mobile dental clinic, hoping to secure it before the end of the year.

As for the impact back home in his own desert community, Dr. Dumitru recounts, “My patients and the Mesquite community are into it and can’t stop talking about it. They always ask about my trips and when I’m going next. There is such a need for basic oral health education. It’s starting to make a difference. Educating children and their caretakers means families are now learning how to care for their teeth. We’re changing the future and spreading love in such a hopeless place-one tooth, one person at a time.

What about others who want to participate? Dr. Dumitru encourages everyone to “do something”, whether in their community, state, their own country or abroad. “Give back a portion of what you have been given. Share your gift.”

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