Scott Dubowsky had already visited Israel several times when a friend urged him to consider making a different kind of trip one that would leave a more lasting imprint.
Dr. Scott Dubowsky and his assistant, Michal Englander, treat their "wonderful patient" Esther Chai.
So, Dobowsky, a Tenafly resident with a dental practice in Bayonne, decided to join Dental Volunteers for Israel (DVI), spending the week of June ” to ‘6 in the organization’s Jerusalem Trudi Birger Dental Clinic. It is the only facility in the municipality to provide free dental care to the estimated ‘00,000 children, 5 to 18 years old, who live below the poverty line. These include olim from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, as well as haredi and Palestinian residents of the city. Dental care is not covered under Israel’s national health insurance, Dubowsky told The Jewish Standard; thus, only those who can afford it have access to even the most basic dental hygiene services.
Not only did Dubowsky bring his professional skills. Like many of the other dentists from abroad who volunteer between one and four weeks to the clinic, he arrived laden with dental supplies, like local anesthetics. The clinic also accepts donated supplies from corporations, he learned.
The late Trudi Birger, a Holocaust survivor, started DVI in 1980. The clinic, now named in her memory, is open five days a week, staffed by three dentists who also function as administrators. But the operation depends largely on volunteers, said Dubowsky, and DVI is always looking to expand the pool. According to the DVI Website, current resources enable an average of 100 to 150 children to be seen on a daily basis, either for preventative or restorative treatments. That translates into approximately 1′,000 yearly visits, far below the number of children lacking care.
Dubowsky, who returned on June ‘7, came home deeply affected by what he described as a serious threat to public health.
He saw at least 50 to 60 youngsters, he said, and was shocked by the extent of the decay he found. "It’s not like treating American kids. These [youngsters] had huge gaping holes, craters in their permanent molars, despite fluoridation [of Israel’s water]. It’s surprising for a modern city. [But] in this socio-economic class, their diets are terrible, and they don’t know how to brush their teeth."
The population in Jerusalem is unique, he observed, because so many of the impoverished families have so many children. He spent the better part of one day, he recalled, taking care of a single family, "from the little ones on up."
Children who come into the clinic with infections and other acute problems are given emergency treatment, Dubowsky said, but before they can undergo restorative procedures, they must first complete an oral hygiene program with a hygienist.
"The funny thing is, if a kid falls and breaks his front tooth, that’s covered through the school system, but decay is not covered," he said, noting the irony.
Although he has no immediate plans to return, Dubowsky is determined to do more to help.
For starters, Dubowsky hopes to raise money for a new facility, explaining that DVI has not only outgrown its rented space off Emek Refaim near German Colony, but that the clinic is essentially falling apart. "It’s a little hole-in-the-wall, really just an old shack," said Dubowsky, recalling how one day, one of the pipes burst, spewing water into the treatment area. He has already started to reach out to friends and colleagues here, he said, beginning with those in his UJA of Northern New Jersey physicians and dentists group and others he knows in New York. He believes his appeal will resonate. "It’s a project that is defined and will help a lot of kids," he said.
For more information about DVI, log onto the organization’s website at www.dental-dvi.org.il