A Family Tradition of Global Care

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

From journeying down the winding back roads in rural Guatemala, to practicing dentistry in small-town Ontario, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry dental graduate Kayleigh MacIntosh says the goal is the same: to encourage total oral health in underserviced populations where access to care is limited. MacIntosh has spent part of the past four years of her dental training volunteering her time providing oral hygiene education and service in Guatemala. She now plans to set up practice in the rural community of Wiarton on the Bruce Peninsula. But first, she will celebrate her graduation from Schulich Medicine & Dentistry's Doctor of Dental Surgery.

MacIntosh's decision to study dentistry stemmed from an interest in both art and science, and an intense dedication to wanting to help others. "When I looked into dentistry I realized it was the perfect blend of being able to use my hands and also practice in a health profession," she says. Providing care to those most in need has brought her the greatest satisfaction while practicing dentistry.

It was her uncle, Dr. Tom Rice, a long-time faculty member with Schulich Dentistry that first inspired MacIntosh to become involved in social advocacy and global outreach. He has been involved in caring for underserviced populations for the past decade in South America and Africa. His stories of adventure and personal growth encouraged MacIntosh to become involved.

During her four years in dental school, she joined Dr. Rice on trips to Guatemala to embark on "dental journeys," and in two of the four years brought along her classmates to also contribute. The group travelled to rural villages providing dental care and education to impoverished populations, some of whom had never seen a dentist before. "In a place like Guatemala, where the access to care just isn't there, you encounter different problems and patterns of disease and you see how prevention and oral education is important," she says.

That's part of the reason why the program in Guatemala also reaches out to school children. They spend time teaching pupils the importance of oral hygiene with the hope that the knowledge will be passed along to their families and then down through future generations.

"She is definitely passionate about social responsibility, and has been involved in helping those in need not only abroad but right here at home as well," says Dr. Rice.

MacIntosh was involved with Schulich Medicine & Dentistry's Dental Outreach Community Service (DOCS) program, spending time in the isolated northern community of Moose Factory, Ontario on the southern end of James Bay. She is thrilled that the School has made DOCS a part of the curriculum requiring all students to volunteer their time to provide services to those who due to location or financial situation wouldn't have access to care. She says it is the perfect way to emphasize to new dentists that social responsibility is really an important part of health care.

And as a new dentist, MacIntosh is not taking that message lightly. She hopes to return to Western to continue to bring students on dental journeys. She is also setting up her practice in the rural Ontario community of Wiarton to provide care to underserviced populations. She says she has always wanted to practice in a rural community where patients are so appreciative and don't take good dental care for granted because there is such a need.

"Dentistry goes way beyond drilling and filling," she says. "You have to pay attention to total oral health, because part of being a healthy person is having a healthy mouth as well."