Detroit Mercy students, Benco Family Foundation changing lives globally

Stepping outside the familiar. Fine-tuning clinical skills. Placing the needs of others above their own.

Student-run mission trips at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry provide these opportunities and countless other life-changing moments for energetic young professionals. Funding can be a challenge, though, and in 2019, the Benco Family Foundation took action to assist.

In 2019, Jessica Dinh and Chelsea Watkins (shown at top with a young patient) participated in student-run mission trips to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic in May, and Guatemala in August, respectively. Each student was awarded a $1250 grant from the Benco Family Foundation in support of their travel.

“I cannot thank the Benco Family Foundation enough for creating this scholarship fund, and choosing me to be a recipient. These mission trips are such enriching experiences for us to have as students, but they unfortunately come at quite a cost. I am so grateful to have had this
opportunity to return to Chichicastenango, and will cherish this experience forever.”

Chelsea Watkins, Detroit Mercy Dental student, on her 2019 mission trip to Guatemala

Dr. Watkins, now a 2020 graduate who currently in practice at Integrative Oral Medicine, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, described the emotional connection with the people of Chichicastenango.

“Our team kicked off the week by building houses for two families in need. The build that I was a part of was for a 70-year old woman named
Tummasa whose previous house was being destroyed by a mudslide. While
spending the day with her and her family, we quickly learned that this single room house we were building was going to provide protection for not only Tummasa, but seven of her family members.”

Chelsea Watkins and team built houses for two Guatemalan families in need. The build she was part of created a single-room home (shown) for a 70-year-old woman and seven of her family members whose previous house was destroyed in a mudslide.

“It was tear-jerking to see the love and appreciation that this family had for each other, and the generosity and gratitude they expressed to our team. Their ability to be so grateful and steadfast in their faith despite all of their hardships was incredibly moving.”

“This trip to Guatemala far exceeded my expectations. It was amazing to return to Chichicastenango and see some of the familiar faces of the Guatemalan friends I had made on my last visit to Chichi,” added Watkins.

“After our amazing experience at our house builds, our team spent the next three and a half days in the clinic. We saw a total of 263 patients and provided cleanings, oral hygiene instruction, restorative work, sealants, silver diamine fluoride applications, and 450 extractions. I learned so much about dentistry, myself, and my amazing colleagues during this week- and even picked up a little more Spanish as well!”

University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry students, including Chelsea Watkins, saw a total of 263 patients and provided cleanings, oral hygiene instruction, restorative work, sealants, silver diamine fluoride applications, and 450 extractions for patients in Guatemala in 2019.

“Detroit Mercy Dental students see participation in student- run mission trips as a way to live out our university mission and enhance their educational experiences, but the cost of these trips can be prohibitive on student budgets. We are grateful to the Benco Family foundation for their support in sponsoring Detroit Mercy Dental student travel on mission trips.”

Adrianna Moreno, M.A., Associate Director of Student Services, University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry

A return trip to Puerto Plata

Earlier in 2019, Jessica Dinh visited the Dominican Republic on her second mission trip to Puerto Plata in two years.

“After having the privilege of going on the same mission trip last year, I was determined to return as an incoming 4th year with the intention of teaching my peers, in addition to providing quality treatment to those in need. Last year I was guided through my first cleanings, fillings, extractions, and screenings by the fourth year students, who were incredibly helpful. This year we were fortunate to have an incredible group of students and faculty who were eager to learn, teach, and provide service to the people of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic for four days,” said Dinh.

“I was placed in the screening, radiology, oral surgery, and restorative departments to ensure that the second and third year students would receive the guidance and support they needed. There, I had the fulfilling experience of being able to assist students in successfully completing their first procedures on live patients. The opportunity to treat an underserved population and teach my peers was exceptionally rewarding.”

Jessica Dinh, Detroit Mercy Dental student, on her 2019 mission trip to Puerto Plata

In addition to teaching other students, Dinh was able to complete 70 screenings in a single morning and perform a number of restorations and extractions. Over the course of four days, her group performed 414 procedures on 236 patients.

“A particularly difficult case I was able to perform under the guidance of a faculty member was a surgical extraction on a partially impacted third molar with curved roots. We were able to accomplish this by laying a flap and creating a buccal trough in order to remove the tooth,” said Dinh.

Alternatives to travel

In the midst of a global pandemic, it’s still possible to give back without travel.

One way to support is through the Global Smile Foundation, which helps fund life-changing comprehensive cleft care for patients in underserved communities.

Assist in making healthy smiles possible by conducting a fundraiser in your community or donating today at:

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