Sometimes the best gifts are ones that can't be wrapped and put under the Christmas tree--like a getting a smile from a stranger or loved one and having the ability to reciprocate.
The town of Jacmel, Haiti is full of smiles this holiday season following a humanitarian visit from a local dentist last month.
She led a team of three dentists and two hygienists from Aspen Dental offices in the U.S. northeast area, and provided vital oral care in a neighborhood clinic in conjunction with the nonprofit Restore Haiti in a country where there is just a single dentist for every 100,000 people.
"I chose dentistry as a profession because not only are you helping people, it's also artistic work. You are changing teeth. You are giving people their smile," Vincent said.
"Around here people take for granted a simple thing like smiling. People have dental coverage here and they don't even use it. It's sad," Bartley said.
"Some of the patients had tartar built up so heavily on their teeth you could see it when they smile--there was black around their gum line. We removed it and they felt more comfortable smiling. They were excited about that."
Operating daily in a cinder block structure amidst a shortage of water and unstable power supply, the volunteers provided nearly 500 Haitians with free care, including cleanings, tooth extractions and fillings, and oral care education.
"Working as a dentist in America you are so used to having things at your fingertips. You don't think about having electricity all day or having clean water," Vincent said.
"But that was an issue. They don't have electricity all day. They turn it on and off. And we had to use generators. One time everything circuited out. We had too many things in the generator."
The rewards from delivering dental care far outweighed the challenges that came with the working conditions.
"They were just so grateful for everything we did. And the people who worked for the local ministry and how they helped us out," explained Vincent, who has an affinity toward Haiti since her parents grew up there.
"I was the only one who spoke Creole," she said.
"So the people from the local ministry came and translated for us. They stood by us from like 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. translating for us and holding a flashlight and pointing it in the patients' mouths so we could see what we were doing. They really wanted to help us help them."
As Vincent and her team helped the patients, she said she saw a trend in multiple teeth and gum infections, the majority of which were cases of extreme decay and abscess. In the worst cases they noticed such extreme decay that the tooth had already begun falling apart in the patient's mouth.
"Because they live in poverty they don't have money or access to things they need--toothbrush, toothpaste. Plus they are uneducated so they don't learn about brushing and flossing everyday to prevent these things."
She said the work was also rewarding in the sense that she and her team were able to help people who were in pain.
"People were telling us they couldn't sleep because of the pain," Vincent said.
"They had rotted teeth in their mouth that had broken down and needed to come out because they were causing an infection."
Vincent was thrilled to also be able to save some of those broken teeth from further decay by providing fillings.
She and Bartley would like to return to Haiti in 2013 to offer more free dental care. This was not Vincent's first humanitarian trip to Haiti. She traveled there after the earthquake to rebuild homes through Restore Haiti.
"When they found out I was a dentist they told me there was a great need for dental care. They never had any dentists to go there and help out," Vincent said.
So she approached the CEO and COO of Aspen Dental and asked them to donate supplies.
"They said you are doing such a big thing we will cover the whole trip. It was amazing," Vincent said.