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Putting smiles on the poorest of the poor

The Dental Family Robinson has fantastic experience in Dominican Republic


by: SUBMITTED PHOTOS - The Robinson family of West Linn gets in some hugs while posing for a photo with some Dominican Republic children. From the left are Nick, Melinda, Dr. Jon, Jane and Anne.

When it came to going on a dental mission trip to the Dominican Republic, Dr. Jon Robinson of West Linn pulled out all the stops.

He was accompanied by wife Melinda; children Anne, Jane and Nick; and four members of the staff of his Lake Oswego practice, including office manager and hygienist Kristi Clary.

They went on sort of a dental mission impossible: helping people who had never seen a dentist in their lives who worked in the sugar cane fields. It was more like a dentist’s nightmare.

Yet the entire Robinson crew was glowing after they recently returned, and not just from how much they were able to help the Dominican Republic people.

“This was much more exciting than I thought it would be,” said Anne Robinson, 17. “We went there to give, but we received so much more. The love they gave us was so humbling.”

The Robinson family was already into giving through church and community activities, but the Dominican trip was definitely a milepost in their lives, something that they will always use for comparison in the future.

“This was a defining experience for us,” said Melinda Robinson. “We wanted to wait until our children were old enough to really appreciate it. Kristi brought her sons, too. As Americans we have so many opportunities, and people in the Dominican Republic have extremely limited opportunity. As parents we felt responsible to help our children to internalize that.”

“This opportunity wasn’t just given to us,” Jon Robinson said. “We had to earn it.”

In fact, the effort just to get there took three years.

“It seemed surreal to actually do it,” Clary said. “We had been hoping for so long.”

It was the Smiles for Life Foundation that originally sparked Jon Robinson’s ambition to go to the Dominican Republic. Smiles for Life, as they say, has been whitening the smiles of impoverished people since 1998. It is a project of the Crown Council, an organization of dentists highly committed to oral healthcare all over the world.

The Robinson children found that a ball is a great communication tool for children of any nation. Posing with a little Dominican girl are, from the left, Nick, Anne and Jane.

Robinson had seen many of his colleagues go on dental mission trips, and he had long desired to make his own trip. Not just for himself but for his family and staff.

But it took years of work to save enough money for the mission. The Robinson practice did it by participating in the Smiles for Life teeth whitening program, in which 100 percent of all patient fees went toward the trip, about $20,000. They couldn’t have found people more in need of dental care than the ones they met in the Dominican Republic.

“It’s a tragic and sobering situation,” Melinda Robinson said. “There were two villages with Creole and Haitians. The dictator (Rafael Leonidas)Trujillo (who was assassinated May 30, 1961) recruited Haitians to come work in the sugar cane fields, but he never delivered on his promises. The people lost their citizenship, they couldn’t get a legal ID, they can’t get an education. They were absolutely stuck.”

So, the Robinsons and seven other dental teams from the U.S. set to work. Their “clinic” included some blankets spread out over some poles. Their dental tools were extremely limited.

“The only thing about it similar to my office was the drill and the forceps in my hand,” Jon Robinson said.

As the Dominican people, from the ages of 3 to 95, arrived on buses and walked out in endless lines, it was obvious the task would be overwhelming if not impossible.

But their patients were great.

“They had prayed for years that people would come and give them care,” Melinda Robinson said.

“They had such a level of trust,” Clary said. “They would just open their mouths and let us take care of them. They would patiently wait for their turn in the heat.”

Everyone quickly found a niche where they could help the most. Jane, age 14, was so affected by the patients she helped that she is now considering a career in the dental profession. She helped in other ways, too.

“The little girls wanted me to polish their nails,” Jane said. “Five coats of every color.”

Nick, the youngest of the group at age 11, did have a lot of time for fun and games, especially baseball. It is the DR’s national sport, and there was a lot that the Dominican kids taught him about the game. Still, Nick was put to work cleaning dental instruments. He also made some sharp observations.

“There were lots of extractions,” Nick said. “The reason was the people lived right next to the cane fields. The poorest people had better teeth because they had no money to buy sugar.”

When the Robinson team returned to West Linn, they left behind a lot of smiles and healthier teeth. They also educated the people on how to care for their own teeth.

“The big piece was not just getting them out of pain but getting them to help themselves,” Jane said.

There was another thing they left behind.

“It was a lot more about giving hope,” Jane Robinson said. “They found there were people who cared enough about them to come help them.”

While putting smiles on the faces of many children, the Robinson crew put big smiles on their own faces, with perhaps the biggest smile belonging to Anne Robinson.

“There were so many things we’re going to remember,” Anne said. “Everyone had a common purpose. After just three minutes little kids were running up to us.

“We want to go back so much.”



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  • 21 Oct 2014

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  • 22 Oct 2014

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