I had a profoundly moving interaction with a dental patient recently – one that gave me a taste of what I’m sure many dentists get to experience at least a few times in their careers. It’s the kind of experience you live for, because it is real proof that what you are doing is making a real difference in real people’s lives.

Open Wide Foundation image 1

It happened earlier this month, when I went to Guatemala to visit the Open Wide clinic there. I have of course been keeping up to date with the thrilling success of the foundation and the clinic in Peronia (as well as the other clinics that have opened since), but I had not been there in quite a while. It was time for another personal visit.

The clinic was looking even better than I remembered it, with new additions such as outdoor instructional brushing stations. It was clear that the facility was in the hands of people who really cared about it, which was really gratifying to see, since the whole aim of Open Wide's mission is to integrate our clinics into the community where they become “adopted” and self-sustaining. But it’s what happened shortly after I walked in the door that really stays with me.

Open Wide Foundation image 2

The place was bustling with local dental staff, dental residents, visiting dentists and patients. In the front reception area I was given a wonderfully warm welcome and was introduced to everyone as one of the founders of Open Wide. I was shaking hands and exchanging greetings, when a young woman spoke up. She explained, through an interpreter, that she had been one of the first patients at the clinic when it opened. She talked about how she had suffered with bad teeth for so long, and had been afraid to smile. She talked about how much better she felt now, and what a difference it made to have a smile she didn’t want to hide. She spoke with real passion, and as she spoke the tears welled up in her eyes.

I was incredibly moved by this woman’s sincere gratitude. She didn’t really know me – all she knew was that I was one of the people involved with bringing the clinic to her community, and she was overcome with emotion in trying to explain what Open Wide meant to her.

Open Wide Foundation image 3

I have spent my career helping dentists become the best care providers they can be, and over the years many of them have very kindly expressed their gratitude. But it is not often I get to hear firsthand from patients who have had their lives transformed by great dentistry. It was especially touching to hear from someone who had barely had any kind of dental care before her experience in our clinic.

I have more to tell you about that trip – about meeting with the Guatemalan president, about the incredible results and momentum Open Wide is achieving, about the people I saw there who are changing their own lives while changing the lives of others. I’ll be writing more about that all this week.

But in the end, it all comes back to that woman. She personified for me what we were doing there. When my partner, Glen Wysel, and his wife Lisa first approached me with the idea of creating a philanthropic foundation for bringing dental treatment to those who need it most desperately, this is the kind of response we had in mind. And as I say, I knew about the success we were having. But it’s one thing to read the numbers and hear the stories. It was something else entirely to be there in person and put a face to that success. It was an encounter I will never forget.

I’m sure you have moments like this too – moments when a patient tells you, with real emotion, what the dentistry you have performed has meant to them. I hope you really take those moments to heart, that you capture them, share them with your team and celebrate them. These are the moments that will help you, during more challenging times, to re-connect with why you do what you do. After all, success is measured in many ways, but you can’t put a price on intangible moments like this.

 I invite you to come and create more of those moments. Join the Open Wide community where you will be serving so many deeply appreciative patients. It’s a great way to stay connected in a very pure way to the basic human side of dentistry.

(Click this link for more articles by Imtiaz Manji.)