Northshore Magazine

Northshore October 2015

Northshore magazine showcases the best that the North Shore of Boston, MA has to offer.

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50 | OCTOBER 2015 Dentist Mel Miller treats patients all over the globe as part of his volunteer work with Hispanic International Mission. nonprofit Hispanic International Mission, which was incorporated into the MHDA. Despite the grueling 12-hour days and the lack of adequate equipment, Dr. Miller is passionate about being part of a team of dentists, faculty, and students who provide dental diagnoses, oral hygiene instructions, prophylaxis, fluoride applications, extractions, and restorative work to children ages three to 17. After getting a taste of humani- tarian work, Dr. Miller also joined Global International Relief of Den- ver, with which he performs dental work in Nepal, Guatemala, Africa, and Cambodia. Gone are the days of treating patients in a sterile dental office and teaching histology in state-of-the-art classrooms at Tufts. Now, he packs for survival, converg- es with his team somewhere across the world, and treks into primitive villages to perform work on poor children who have likely never before seen a dentist. "In Kenya, the children came in vans. They were jam-packed. They lined up by the hundreds. You couldn't see the end," says Dr. Mill- er during an interview in Marble- head, where he lives. "They had to take off their shoes before entering the clinic because they were caked with mud and dirt. They had socks, but their feet stuck through. They might as well not have had them. "The children are wonderful. They're very appreciative. Their manner is stoic; they hardly ever cry. We do cleanings, sealants, fill- ings, extractions, and we give them basic toothbrushing instructions. These kids will show their siblings and others in the village what to do and how to floss. We see abscesses and infections, too. Pain? Yes. They just put up with it," he says. Dr. Miller says the volunteers and interns who comprise the den- tal team have to demonstrate that they've done community service. The four to six dental professionals and 10 to 12 interns and volunteers also have to be able to endure mea- ger accommodations. "We live in dorms in all the coun- tries we visit. In Ecuador we stayed with nuns in a convent. In Nepal we stayed with [Buddhist monks] in their monastery. In Peru, we had to get rid of big spiders in our bunks. We saw tarantulas on the ground. If you are squeamish, if you're not willing to take some risks, don't come," he warns. "Haiti will make you cry," he goes on. "In one mission we saw about a thousand children over eight days.... There were wooden boards for walls; you could look out and see the chickens in the yard. There were folding chairs and flash- lights. The headrests were our own laps or another person's hands. There are no X-rays, no health histories. We bring Novocaine, bibs, gloves, and masks, and we leave everything there. They have den- tists there, but they treat the people who have money," says Dr. Miller. Despite all that he has seen, or perhaps because of it, Dr. Miller is always content, bright, and optimis- tic. The perks of his humanitarian work—aside from the satisfaction it gives him—are experiencing the world and meeting like-minded people. The only time he does not appear elated is when he speaks about the "hand-to-mouth" exist- ence of the children. With the Hispanic International Mission, Dr. Miller has performed dentistry on thousands of chil- dren across Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the Galapagos Islands, Peru, and Hon- duras. With Global International Relief, he has treated children in Kenya, Nepal, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam, and this summer, he adds San Martin Jilotepeque, Guatemala. His grasp of languages includes Portuguese, Spanish, French, German, and a smattering of Russian, Arabic, and Chinese. "Dr. Miller is on my board of di- rectors," says Dr. Herman, a native of Venezuela. "I love him because he has experience. He's a great den- tist and has a terrific personality. He's still a hard-working person. I hope to have the vitality he has." Dr. Herman is preparing for a mission to San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic. The team will see 100 patients a day for a week. Her group has been to the Do- minican Republic before, but never to San Pedro de Macoris. She says her goal is to "not forget" a country— to return to see if it has improved. A pescatarian, Dr. Miller is healthy and robust. He has great energy and looks years younger than he is. He embodies the Talmudic phrase he likes to quote, "Whoever saves one life saves the world." Massachusetts Hispanic Dental Association 617-423-0505 CO N TAC T FAC ES

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