Helping Around the World
Scotts Valley dentist Nannette Benedict does more than treat local kids. She travels the world to places where kids have never seen a dentist to help them out.
How did you get involved in relief work and how many trips have you done and where?
I became interested in public health and community dentistry before I started dental school. I received a community health grant while in dental school and organized a preventive dentistry clinic in an orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico. That inspired me!
I volunteered with Los Medicos Voladores for 30 years and have met my closest friends there. It inspired me to get my pilot’s license. Before cell phones and GPS we flew single engine aircraft into tiny villages in Mexico, it was an exciting adventure. Now we can actually communicate with the village mayor and they all have cell phones.
Even in the remote mountain pueblo in Guatemala, the women in their handmade Mayan dresses, have a cell phone in their apron pocket! They have no regular electricity, but a little solar battery to charge their phone!
Haiti is the poorest country in which I have volunteered. We have also volunteered in St.Lucia and Jamaica and in Uganda at the UN Refugee camp with 65,000 refugees and no dentist! There, as well as most the other places I mentioned, they have no electricity and no water. They spend 30 percent of the day getting water.
We also volunteer in California in the CDA Cares clinics, I will be in Benicia in 2 weeks at CDACares.
What’s been the biggest challenge about relief work and what was the greatest reward?
Three challenges: corrupt governments, the logistics of bringing all the equipment that we need, the expense!
How long have you been a dentist and what inspired you to become one?
I have enjoyed my profession for more than four decades! I have seen lots of changes. I was inspired to become a dentist from an exceptional counselor in in the Governor’s Honors Program while living in Georgia. (This was a summer program for the leaders of tomorrow started by Jimmy Carter) my field was visual art. My counselor put together that I wanted to help people, I was talented in both science and art and as a women wanted to break out of the female stereotype. At that time only 1.5 percent of dentists were women. It seemed to be a great challenge!
Would you recommend the profession to other kids?
I love what I do. I get to talk to people all day…watch families grow up…and am stimulated to keep up with all the new technology dentistry offers.
I am a bit or a tech nerd and have been a cutting edge dentist which keeps me involved. I also am a Trustee for the Dental Society which keeps me on the pulse of the community. My kids came along with me on dental missions as soon as they were old enough to be helpful.
My eldest son is a dentist practicing with me. It is wonderful having a millennial in the office(really cut down on tech support calls). Devin spent a year between college and dental school confirming what he wanted to do and volunteered with the Navy as a dental assistant and translator traveling through Central America taking care of poor kids in little villages. I joined him for two weeks in Ecuador. Together we thoroughly enjoyed giving our services.
Is it more difficult treating kids than adults? What’s the biggest challenge working with kids?
I love kids. They have such cute little voices and speak their mind. I am not a specialist in pediatrics. I just really love kids. However, I really enjoy adult dentistry so I did not want to limit my practice. Kids are a psychological challenge, adults more of technical challenge. My favorite professor in dental school said: Treat the kids like adults and the adults like kids!
How do you treat kids scared to go to dentist?
I talk to them. I use the tell, show, do method. I want to educate them to not be fearful. And I take it step by step and never push beyond their comfort zone . Most kids have a 20-30 second attention span, so I do not make them wait (appointments first thing in morning) and find out what they fear.
What advice would you give other dentists considering doing the kind of relief work you do?
Sign up! I have volunteered with several organizations. Research and be sure it has an ideology that agrees with you. Rotary is a great organization as it is international. We finally established our own NGO, World Wide Smiles.
What’s your favorite thing about being a dentist and least favorite?
I love finishing a cosmetic case or Invisalign and see a beautiful smile! Least favorite is discussing money issues!
What do you like about living in Santa Cruz County?
Everything! I’m a volunteer on Horse Patrol at Wilder State Park and love horseback riding in all our lovely parks.Today I rode the Emma Mcrary trail in Pogonip. I’m a swimmer and when it warms up will continue to swim around the wharf on Sunday mornings. And I love the arts…open studios, Jewel Theater, SC Shakespeare, and all the music, and fresh organic foods. I love this area!
They say dentists have a high suicide rate. What do you do to stay sane and happy?
I balance my life with the wonders of SC. Horses, swimming, gardening, (we just planted a pinot noir vineyard) yoga, book club, all the wonderful lectures and family!