This Fourth of July, millions of Americans will gather with friends and family for a day of fun. People will come together to celebrate what makes their communities strong — at parades, barbecues and fireworks displays.

But amid the festivities, the Fourth also serves as a reminder that there are needs here at home. We know this all too well. While we’re a global humanitarian relief organization, Medical Teams International implements dental health programs in local communities, too. These initiatives help people living on the margins, or who don’t have access to services where they live.

Across the Pacific Northwest, tooth pain affects how many people conduct their lives. Cost and access prevent many from going to a dentist. Instead, they put off treatment until the pain becomes unbearable. When that happens, they go to the emergency room. Oral disease can lead to other more serious health problems that affect a person’s quality of life.

Mobile Dental volunteers and patients represent the amazing work taking place right now in our own backyard. Here are two stories that demonstrate how strong our local communities are.

Volunteer Spirit

Volunteers are the backbone of the Mobile Dental Program. Without them, the program wouldn’t be able to serve nearly 20,000 people a year, or provide more than $6 million worth of dental services free of charge.

Volunteers like Dr. Dale Canfield care deeply about their patients.

Dr. Dale Canfield volunteering in one of the mobile dental vans at a mobile dental clinic in Portland, Ore
Dr. Dale Canfield at a Mobile Dental Clinic in Portland, Ore. Canfield has been a Mobile Dental volunteer for nearly two decades.

A decades-long volunteer, Dr. Canfield has been on eight trips to Cambodia with Medical Teams International and has provided care to hundreds, if not thousands, of low-income Oregonians. Twice a week, he spends a shift fixing some of the worst dental destruction he’s ever seen.

“This has changed my life,” Canfield says of volunteering for Mobile Dental.

His inspiration comes from his fellow volunteers, who demonstrate what one can achieve through dedication and teamwork. It has been a great feeling to be able to use the knowledge accumulated over a 55-year career to help those in need, he says. Now in his 80s, he’s still going strong as a regular fixture on our Mobile Dental Vans.

Patients Partner

Then there are those who receive care from the volunteer dentists and hygienists aboard the clinics, including some who are active-duty military or veterans.

Take, for instance Alek Skarlatos, the Oregon National Guard veteran who made international headlines in 2015 for helping to stop a gunman on a Paris-bound train. Skarlatos and his two friends received France’s highest decoration for their bravery. Their story was detailed in a book, which Clint Eastwood adapted into a movie starring Skarlatos and his friends.

Skarlatos visited a Mobile Dental Clinic in Southern Oregon that was helping Oregon Guardsmen prepare for deployment.

Alek Skarlatos and Mobile Dental Clinic Manager Kevin Abbe, pose together aboard a van in Southern Oregon
Alek Skarlatos, left, and Mobile Dental Clinic Manager Kevin Abbe, right, pose together aboard a van in Southern Oregon.

At the clinic, Alek received two fillings and therapeutic relief for his jaw joint pain. He voiced his appreciation for the help, saying Mobile Dental Clinics made a difference in the lives of service members. Kevin Abbe, a Mobile Dental Clinic manager, called Alek a down-to-earth young man who was sincerely appreciative of Mobile Dental’s mission.

Alek is just one patient. Dr. Canfield is just one volunteer. But much like a community, volunteers and patients are greater than the sum of their parts—because local communities are stronger when people come together behind a common cause. And that’s something worth reflecting on this summer, as communities come together for barbecues, picnics, fun and friendship.

Your continued support makes this local work possible.

Support Mobile Dental and bring health and healing to local communities across the Pacific Northwest. Make a donation or volunteer your time today to make a difference in the lives of people living in your community.