| Apr 08, 2015
Dr. Dale Canfield and an assistant work on a patient's teeth during a Mobile Dental Clinic in February.
Dr. Dale Canfield may be two years retired from his private dental practice, but that doesn’t mean he’s lost his sense of purpose.
His patient roster used to be exclusively composed of high-powered attorneys and real estate developers; now he provides care to disadvantaged populations as a volunteer for Medical Teams International’s Mobile Dental Program, something he’s done for more than a decade.
A 17-year MTI volunteer, Dr. Canfield has been on eight trips to Cambodia and has provided care to hundreds of low-income Oregonians. Twice a week he spends a shift on an MTI mobile clinic bus, fixing some of the worst dental destruction he’s ever seen. The tooth decay Canfield sees is caused by a variety of factors.
Sometimes it’s the result of drug use among people who are trying to turn their lives around, kick the addiction and gain employment. Often, it’s because the closest clinic is too far away, and the patient can't afford reliable transportation. Almost all patients lack dental health insurance, including children. Many are homeless.
Whatever the reason, there’s a lot of work to be done combatting the country’s hidden health care need. “It’s changed my life,” Canfield said of his volunteerism.
The patients he sees twice a week tug at his heart. He can’t believe the pain they’re in. Sometimes the agony is physical – searing pain shooting through their mouths. Other times, it’s psychological. These patients want to feel good about themselves and find work, but the first hurdle is fixing their teeth.
What keeps Dr. Canfield going, aside from a sense of purpose?
Canfield’s inspiration comes from his fellow volunteers, who have shown him what can be achieved through dedication and teamwork. One of his first trips to Cambodia brought him to an orphanage where he was part of a team providing dental services to parentless children. While there, two of his fellow volunteers said they would pay $1,500 apiece to put one of the orphans through dental school, if they could find one interested in the offer.
As it so happened, there was one. And the volunteers made good on their promise, Canfield said. Not only did the child, now grown, complete dental school, he became part of MTI’s volunteer team in Cambodia. It is further proof of the self-perpetuating nature of philanthropy — how the act of giving inspires others to reciprocate the generosity.
It’s a great feeling to be able to use the accumulated knowledge learned over a 55-year career to help those in need, Canfield said. Now in his 80s, he’s still going strong as a regular fixture at MTI’s Mobile Dental Clinics. He plans to continue volunteering for as long as he can.
Volunteer today! MTI has volunteer opportunities both around the world and here at home, serving people affected by disaster, poverty and conflict. Find an opportunity for you today at MTI’s volunteer page. Thank you for your support!