A dental mission is travel made by a group of oral healthcare professionals to a foreign country or to another area of their own country to perform a special study, project, or simply to provide needed oral hygiene instruction and clinical dentistry. The typical dental mission is approximately one week in duration. However, some missions and missionaries may involve longer commitments of time at more permanent healthcare facilities. Dental missions are often supported by religious, fraternal or professional associations. An estimated two million North Americans participate in a medical/dental mission each year. There are faith-based and non-faith-based missions. Non-faith-based organizations focus solely on the oral healthcare of people. Faith-based organizations have a dual purpose – evangelization and healthcare. This course will focus exclusively on the clinical aspects of oral healthcare missions.

Healthcare in developing countries can be quite different in less developed nations than in developed nations. There may be a shortage of trained healthcare professionals. The resources (facilities, supplies, equipment, electricity and even water) available may be limited. Additionally, there are elements of risk associated with participation on a mission trip.

Healthcare missions involving students in training are becoming a common activity. This is often an important component of a school’s outreach and community service programs. The objectives are to:

  1. expose students to diverse patient populations suffering from a broad range of dental diseases which students would be unlikely to encounter in their dental school clinic;
  2. offer students an opportunity to interact with dental clinicians working in a variety of healthcare delivery systems, and
  3. instill empathy and an increased sense of local and worldwide responsibility to help prioritize oral hygiene instruction and meet the dental needs of deserving individuals.