Some people have a job. Others, like Vidal G. Balderas, D.D.S., M.P.H., have a calling and a passion.
“I’ve always wanted to improve people’s lives,” said Dr. Balderas, a professor at UT Health San Antonio’s School of Dentistry. “And with dentistry, I have the opportunity to do that, while still having time to go on mission trips and be with my family.”
Dr. Balderas created a street dentistry program which takes fourth-year students and residents to Haven for Hope to provide dental care to an underserved community. “We call it street dentistry, because sometimes that’s right where we are–set up in our mobile dental van on the side of the street, rendering care to those who need it the most,” he said.
By teaming up with Haven for Hope, Dr. Balderas hopes to prepare students for the range of patients they will encounter throughout their careers, while also helping those who need quality health care.
“Students gain experience in treatment by dealing with underserved populations,” Dr. Balderas said. “I’ve been blessed. I came here to this school representing some of those populations. Having that in mind, I want to make sure that I can be there to relieve someone else’s pain.”
Dr. Balderas’ team of students help people with basic dental care, oral hygiene, dentures, root canals, tooth removals and more.
“With Haven for Hope, [students] get to see public health in the real world,” Dr. Balderas said. “By helping someone with their oral care, we can impact so much more than just their teeth. We can impact their self-confidence, relieve their pain and improve their lives.”
Because of Dr. Balderas’ efforts to expand health care to underserved communities and the homeless population, he and his students now make weekly visits to Haven for Hope to practice street dentistry. In the future, Dr. Balderas hopes to grow the program and treat more patients.
“At the end of the day, we’re all looking for the same thing,” said Dr. Balderas, “to improve our lives and the ones of those around us. In medicine, sometimes the rewards are long-term, but with these clinics, the gratification of helping someone is instant.”