Woodcliff Lake Dentists Bring Oral Care To Remote Villages

For a pair of busy Bergen County professionals, it’s not exactly the vacation getaway you’d expect.

For the last decade, Jon Golub, an orthodontist, and his wife, Jamie Diament-Golub, a pediatric dentist, have been taking trips to impoverished countries to help give kids there something to smile about.

The Woodcliff Lake couple embarks on at least two missions a year to bring oral care into remote villages. During their trips, they’ll work with colleagues and dental students to provide hundreds of tooth extractions, cleanings and preventative care to pediatric patients.

Jamie described it as “an active working vacation.”

“It’s challenging and the days are long, but you’re working with like-minded people, so there’s an incredibly positive feeling. We kind of feed off it,” she said. “Instead of a vacation sitting on the beach, we do this.”

Each year, thousands of dentists from the U.S. travel overseas to try and help improve the overall oral health of those in rural communities, trips that typically include preventative education.

In many of these villages, dental decay is a major problem, and getting care is difficult due to the lack of electricity and running water. Nearly 95 percent of pre-teens and teens in low-income countries suffer from untreated dental issues, which can lead to malnutrition, stunted growth and concentration issues, according to Dental Health Without Borders, a non-governmental organization.

Jamie said the work is “rejuvenating and heartfelt.”

Dr. Jamie Golub teaching a brushing and health food lesson in Cabo Verde, West Africa.

In modern Western countries, such as the U.S., a trip to the dentist is often dreaded, but in many of the places the Golubs have trekked to, they’re warmly received.

“One of the most amazing things is being in a village and having kids recognize me, and say, “Oh, my dentist is here,” Jamie said. “It’s really surreal that a kid in some random village in some third world country knows you as their dentist. Then, they’ll hug you and point to their teeth. It’s really incredibly rewarding.”

“You come home feeling upbeat, smiling and feel like you’ve done something positive in the world. It’s a way of life for us,” she said.

It’s also a mission that’s been embraced by their three sons – Michael, 28, and twins, Benjamin and Zachary, 25.

Their sons became involved shortly after Jamie’s first trip to Jamaica in 2009. As a faculty member at Columbia University Dental School, she wound up helping lead dental students on a trip to Jamaica to treat patients in poverty-stricken areas.

Jamie said she “immediately fell in love” with outreach work. And, her passion wound up inspiring her husband and sons to come on the next trip to South America.

At the time, Benjamin and Zachary were still at Pascack Hills High School, located in Montvale, and Michael was in college. Now, all three are enrolled at Tufts University, where they’re studying dentistry, and try to accompany their parents on missions if scheduling allows for it, Michael said.

“What interested us most about our parents’ outreach work was the ability to make such a profound difference in someone’s life. There are not many professionals or skill sets that give you the ability to take someone out of pain,” Michael said. “And when we saw and heard stories about people who would travel miles on foot just to see my parents, we were sold.”

Dr. Michael Golub with his patients

Besides getting hands-on experience, Michael said the mission work has also provided a lesson on “cultural competence.”

“Not everyone has the same beliefs when it comes to the practice of medicine and it’s really interesting to see how different cultures want to address their medical and dental needs,” he said. “What it has taught and given me is the ability to really listen to a patient to understand their concerns and never forgetting that we are treating the whole person and not just an infected tooth.”

Jamie and Jon said they couldn’t be more proud of their sons.

“It is the best feeling in the world to be able to share such an amazing profession with your kids,” Jamie said.  “Knowing that they saw my husband and I as happy, fulfilled and inspired by our life’s work, we couldn’t ask for anything more as a family.”

Currently, the couple is gearing up to travel to Uganda this spring and Israel next fall.

Their outreach, which is coordinated through non-governmental organizations such as KIDS (Kids International Dental Services) and HCI (Health Care International), or universities such as Columbia or Tufts, has led them to places such as Cambodia, Mongolia, Guatemala, South Africa and Jamaica. One day, they hope to launch their own NGO, Jon said.

“When we come home from work, we sit down, have dinner and watch the news. And it’s always negative news. This is the complete opposite – to go away, do something good and feel positive,” Jon said.

Jamie, who has her own practice in Westwood and Park Ridge, is also a clinical professor at Columbia University School of Dental Medicine and serves on the advisory board to the dean of Tufts University School of Medicine.

Jon, whose practice is located in Fort Lee and Westwood, is actively involved with local, state and national dental societies and is a past president of the Fort Lee Rotary Club.

Dr. Jon Golub doing dental exams in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

By Kimberly Redmond

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