By Clinical Associate Professor Teoh Khim Hean, Deputy Director (Clinical); Head & Senior Consultant, Department of Restorative Dentistry, National Dental Centre of Singapore (NDCS)
Philanthropy: The desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes (Oxford English dictionary)
As a prosthodontist sub-specialising in the field of maxillofacial prostheses, I treat patients who have lost oral and facial parts, usually due to cancers of the mouth or face. Years ago, a patient who needed facial restoration came to me. Having exhausted all his savings on cancer treatment, he went on his knees desperately and asked me to help him.
Shocked and deeply moved, I linked him up with the Tooth Fairy Fund in NDCS to provide him with financial assistance. After successful surgery, he improved on his appearance, quality of life and self-esteem. It was very rewarding to be able to help someone in need.
There will always be patients who need financial assistance, new cures and treatments to be discovered, and more oral health professionals to be trained. But resources are limited. This is where philanthropy fills the gaps.
When I started to be involved in philanthropy in NDCS two years back in 2014, I realised that it is not as straightforward as “ask and you shall receive”. It’s really about relationships.
Relationships built over time with patients and donors to support the cause you are championing. More importantly, they are the emotional links between the donor and the beneficiary.
People donate for different reasons. A patient who had previously been through prosthodontics treatment can empathise with others in similar situations. A person with elderly family members can better understand the needs of the ageing population.
Finding that link makes asking and giving easier, such as knowing who to approach and how to convince them to give. When I ask for donations, I see myself as the connection between those with the means and willingness to give and those who need help.
To me, the biggest challenge is to cultivate a sustainable culture of philanthropy in NDCS. We need a culture of giving and paying forward among our staff. It’s not just about giving money, but it is about igniting the interest and letting them feel that they are a part of the big picture.
For a start, we recently held a charity lunch bazaar to raise funds for the Oral Health ACP. We wanted to get more staff involved in philanthropy and feel that they can contribute. This year we are holding an inaugural Gala Dinner to fundraise for NDCS. Apart from organising such fundraising events, we also hope to rope in more senior clinicians to lead the way and multiply the philanthropic effort.
We need a culture of giving and paying forward among our staff. It’s not just about giving money, but it is about igniting the interest and letting them feel that they are a part of the big picture.
Oral health is an important part of total health. The funds we raise will support research projects to improve healthcare outcomes, one of which hopes to develop ways to minimise dental cavities for head and neck cancer patients with reduced salivary flow. In addition, the funds can support higher education for ancillary staff and specialist training for dental professionals, as well as boost the Tooth Fairy Fund to help patients directly.
Philanthropy in NDCS is relatively new, just as I am new to it. The journey is rewarding, and at times challenging. There is much more to learn. But you will know where and how to start when you are clear about whom you are trying to help.
Click here to find out more about the NDCS Tooth Fairy Fund and how you can help give patients that smile of confidence back.