More than 70% of the world’s population…have little or no access to oral health care.”  MH Hobdell, Health as a Fundamental Human Right British Dental Journal 180, 267 – 270 (1996)

Dental care is one of the most critically underserved areas of international health care, as dental care is usually not included in the socialized health care systems found in most developing countries.  Through ISL, thousands receive dental care – with your help!

This program focuses on pediatric dentistry because 1)  this represents the greatest need area of dentistry in developing countries, 2) pediatric dentistry is less invasive and therefore more amenable to more activity by both dental and pre-dental students, 3) focuses our efforts on prevention and public health dentistry – clearly the advancing edge of World Health Organization guidelines and emphasis . The battle to improve oral health worldwide begins here – join us!

ISL is one of the largest and oldest independent provider of field clinical experiences for health care students.  Currently our dental programs are available in Nicaragua and Panama.  See teams schedule for a complete list of teams available. Financial aid is available through our Good Samaritan Missions Sponsorship Program.

ISL has the only independent program that fully collaborates with in-country dental schools and faculty, while providing ADEA guideline compatibility and international “best practices” standards.  Local dental school faculty members help create our programs, train our dentists, and set guidelines for what is appropriate involvement for team participants relative to their qualifications.

ISL utilizes the recommendations of the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) in our dental programming.  Quoting from their guidelines:

There will always be disparities in what individual pre-dental students are prepared to do.  Some pre-dental students will be better prepared to take on more advanced patient care (from previous EMT training, for example) than others…. Be aware of your limitations and do not try to exceed them. See ADEA Guidelines (PDF file) and ISL and the ADEA Guidelines.

Patients’ rights, including both their right to treatment and their right to refuse treatment, are respected at all times. Patients are advised that students may be assisting under the supervision of a qualified in-country dentist.

Student Involvement

Students are at all times under the direct supervision of a licensed dental professional.  Pre-health students will be trained by ISL staff to support its Oral Health Survey and Education Service (see below).  Higher levels of involvement by pre-dental students will depend on each student’s qualifications and on the judgment of ISL’s supervising dentist.   ADEA Guidelines for International Pre-dental Experiences are applied in collaboration with in-country dental school supervisors.  At a minimum pre-dental students may participate as observers in all activities.

Dental students may actively participate in team activities at any level depending on the policy of their respective school.  It is the dental student’s responsibility to inform ISL and its field dental supervisors of those policies.

The following factors should help you determine your level of participation:

  • The patient must agree to have you participate in their care.
  • Ask your field clinic supervisor to help you evaluate your capabilities.
  • The policies of the local Health Ministry of the host country must be followed.
  • Evaluate your own capabilities based on previous experience and training.  You may choose NOT to participate in any aspect of patient care.

Students can and should be a vital part of the provision of dental health services for the millions who do without – but remember:  this experience is not about you.  It is about serving the underserved, while respecting their rights!

Summary of the ISL Dental Clinical/Public Health Field Services

LEVEL I – Oral Health Survey and Education Service Activities are open to all team participants who complete the ISL team training for these activities.  These activities include: oral care education in collaboration with local institutions (schools, churches, etc), house to house visits with dental materials distribution and education, school oral health presentations, patient intake and interview, observation of clinical procedures upon completion of preparatory seminars provided.

LEVEL II – Oral Health Preventative Service- Team members with appropriate training, as determined by the standards of the in-country dental educational community, may assist, under supervision, in various aspects of dental prophylaxis (fluoridation, manual cleanings, etc).  Independent activity in this area may be approved with pre-training and meeting  in-country standards.

LEVEL III – Clinical Dental Service/Assisting –  Team members with appropriate training, as determined by the standards of the in-country dental education community, may assist, under supervision, in various aspects of clinical work including, but not limited to, restoration, extraction, administration of anesthesia, etc.  This clinical experience is intended primarily for dental school students or others with appropriate dental experience/training meeting the standards of in-country dental schools.


Preparation and Orientation Seminars

  • Issues and ethics in international dental care
  • Comparison of the dental care systems of the host country to those in the U.S., Canada, and Europe
  • Brief overview of common oral diseases, the nerves of the mouth, tooth identification, etc.
  • Basic dental exams and screenings
  • Field extractions and techniques, the field cavity filling process, and manual cleanings in the field
  • Review of dental instruments and equipment, and the proper care and handling of dental equipment
  • Importance of community education and public health
  • Review of standard safety precautions and waste materials disposal
  • Basic dental Spanish

Dental Field Clinics

  • Community dental triage via home visits (oral hygiene screening and history; providing dental health kits, etc.)
  • Community dental education and screenings (schools, churches, health fairs and other public venues)
  • Dental exams and screenings for children and adults
  • Manual cleanings
  • Observing or assisting with extractions
  • Observing or assisting with filling cavities
  • Observing or assisting in the pain management process
  • Maintaining and managing dental support equipment, inventories and supplies

Students must always keep the welfare of the patient foremost in their mind. Patients’ rights are always respected and permission must be obtained prior to any treatment involving students.  Patients have the right to refuse treatment.
Upcoming dental teams:

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