One might say local dentist Dr. Tony Albertoni and hygienist Joy Montez have more than a passion for dental health; they have a heart for giving. Earlier this year, the dental duo traveled to Myanmar (formerly Burma) to offer their services to those who might not otherwise receive such luxury.
According to Dr. Albertoni, he first learned of the children at the Myanmar based Emmanuel Children’s Home through his work with Shared Blessings Christian Ministry in Modesto. The Modesto non-profit had partnered with the Myanmar orphanage a few years back and made major enhancements and improvements.
“These kids don’t really see a dentist unless we go back and I really love these kids,” Albertoni said of his most recent trip.
He and Montez took the journey for the first time close to two and a half years ago. That first trip was one which was planned for Albertoni, but a bit on the fly for his long-term assistant, as his original traveling partner had to pull out at the last minute.
Thanks to an adventurous spirit, as well as some fundraising, Montez was able to join the first time trip and was also inspired to return again.
“The cleanings are no picnic,” Montez said of the 69 patients they helped during their nine-day stay. “They have a huge build up, I don’t know why. Even the children.”
Emmanuel Children’s Home, Myanmar is a non- adoption orphanage, so many of the children cared for this trip were seen the last time as well.
“We also saw kids from another orphanage that is nearby,” Montez said.
Of the 69 patients who were treated, the two-person dental team completed a total of 72 fillings, 16 extractions and 59 cleanings. All work was done in a make shift dental office, more commonly known as the foyer of the orphanage director’s home. Utilizing an office chair for their clients, Albertoni and Montez traveled with all the dental supplies and equipment they would need to give proper care to those taking a seat in the chair.
“You know we don’t have to document everything for legal purposes there like we do here,” Albertoni said of their efficiency during a typical ‘9 to 5’ day. “At the same time when we cleaned their teeth off we don’t do the polishing and the flossing.”
“And we don’t have X-rays so we’re just able to do what we can see,” Montez added.
This was a lesson they learned after their first go round with the orphanage children and a few adults. For the sake of time and importance, procedures were streamlined to be of greatest benefit to the locals.
“Some of the guys will chew betel nut which gives a solid black,” Albertoni shared. “Their teeth are solid black, it looks like they’re painted but they’re solid black. You chip it off. It takes quite a bit longer there (to do cleaning).”
The effort and time, however, is well worth it and the payment of gratitude simply priceless, the Oakdale team shared.
“We were treated really well,” Montez said, noting their willingness to not only allow them to work on their teeth, but also lend a hand if needed. “All the kids jumped in to help. The language barrier is a little tricky; you just do the best that you can.”
“I just feel like every time I come home a piece of my heart is still there with those kids,” Albertoni stated. “They’re such loving, gracious kids.”
Both Albertoni and Montez shared it is that loving and gracious nature of the children that makes the trip feel more like pleasure than work. Two things which impressed them most.
“I think just seeing how these kids flourish under the leadership of this orphanage director,” Albertoni said of the director’s calling and leadership with the children.
There is also a devotional nature at Emmanuel.
“They pray fervently. For 10 minutes they just pray out loud, even the little ones,” Albertoni said of daily devotions hosted at the orphanage. “It was so incredible.”
“Their open hearts,” Montez said of what impressed her about the orphanage children.
“Joel (the orphanage director) asked if anybody wanted to stand up and say anything,” she added, during a gathering at the end of their stay. “About half of them stood up and gave a little speech. They were all thankful, but one that really touched me was one girl said because you came back we know you love us.”
Like many charitable endeavors, the trip seemingly did more for the dental duo than those that benefitted from their efforts and expertise.
“One boy said, we can’t do anything for you so all we can do is pray for you,” Montez, visibly emotional, explained.
Both Albertoni and Montez agreed they feel as though they gain more than they give and anticipate returning again to help the children.