If nothing else, the spring of 2020 has driven home the point that good health, kindness and acts of generosity are inextricably intertwined. Long after this season passes, those factors will still be hallmarks of a prosperous society.
Bellevue is packed with people from all walks of life who live that way. One in particular is Dr. John Munro. Since 2004 the longtime owner and operator of Belle Forest Dental has led a group of dentists to the Dominican Republic to provide essential dental services to impoverished communities.
“We take care of infections but my area of expertise is cosmetics,” he says. “My particular emphasis is on helping to restore teeth and replace missing teeth. It allows my Dominican patients to seek employment in the tourist industry. They won’t get hired unless they have a presentable smile. Those opportunities are highly coveted as they can earn ten times more than they would in a typical job.”
Crown Council, an international organization of dentists dedicated to philanthropic activities, sponsors the missions. Crown Council member dentists raise funds for the trips with proceeds earned from teeth whitening procedures, an area of cosmetic dentistry where Dr. Munro is a pioneer.
“I was about 10 years into my practice when I noticed that the stuff we used for gum disease treatment also whitens teeth,” says Dr. Munro. “I developed a gel and delivery system that patients could apply at home without having to make multiple visits to a dentist.”
He applied for and received a patent (which has since expired) for the system, which remains widely available under numerous brand names.
The excursions to the Dominican and Guatemala are faith based which appeal to Dr. Munro, an active member of Brentwood Baptist Church, on a spiritual level. Crown Council’s partner on the ground in the D.R. is Esperanza International, another faith-based organization, led by Dave Valle, a former baseball player who spent the bulk of his 13-year major league career with the Seattle Mariners. Esperanza provides micro-finance programs, financial aid to individuals and small business that lack access to conventional banking services. Esperanza also promotes public education and public health.
“It’s remarkable to see those micro loans at work,” says Dr. Munro. “Communities we’ve seen are so much improved over the years. Their general health and well-being has improved noticeably.
“For example, some of the villages are interspersed in the sugarcane fields that stretch for miles. Some have been Esperanza members for several years; others are new to the game. The ones that have been members are neater communities and more orderly. Those people tend to have much better health and well-being. As their oral health has improved, so has their standard or living.”
The annual trips are life changing for Dr. Munro as well. “I think it’s our duty to serve others where we can,” he says. “It’s one of those intrinsic things that’s so rewarding, to be able to relieve pain that, until we’re there, had no way to be treated.
“When we get a cavity or an abscessed tooth, it can be painful but it’s usually not more than a temporary inconvenience. But the people in these communities don’t have the dietary advantages that we have here or access to medical facilities or the means to pay for it. A lot of time they’ll let it go until the dentist comes around.
“I’ve seen children who’ve been so infected that it’s eaten through the bone in their jaw. It’s not an exaggeration to say that a lot of these procedures can be life saving.”
Nor is it an exaggeration to say that, in the spring of 2020, good health, kindness and acts of generosity have never been more important.
Photos courtesy of Dr. John Munro.