PETALING JAYA: Three years ago, dentist Dr Abu Razali Saini was volunteering to feed the homeless in Chow Kit when he realised that he could bring a new smile to their lives.
Noticing how they suffered from poor dental care, Dr Abu Razali, who is deputy president of the Islamic Dental Association of Malaysia, decided to start an initiative to provide free treatment to marginalised groups.
“When I was with the NGO, Feeding The Needy (FTN) in Chow Kit, I noticed that the recipients of the food did not have good dentition.
“So we decided to offer dental treatment for them,” said Dr Abu Razali in recounting how his initiative Dentistry For The Needy (DFTN), a charitable arm of the Islamic Dental Association, came about in 2016.
Since then, on a monthly basis, dentists, specialists and dentistry graduates volunteer under DFTN to provide dental care such as fillings, extraction and teeth cleaning to the homeless and the urban poor in Chow Kit.
They also treat refugees, residents of shelter homes, orphanages and NGO-run schools, and sex workers, and even travel to orang asli villages to deliver free dental treatment.
DFTN was recently honoured as one of the 10 recipients of the Star Golden Hearts Award 2018.
“We had limited resources and funding to buy equipment and materials. Fortunately, we had support from our association members, the public, dental suppliers, and other NGOs like FTN, Imaret and universities, especially Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia.
“Initially, we had about eight volunteers but now we have 246,” said Dr Abu Razali, who is DFTN adviser.
Its chairman Dr Khairul Anwar Sanusi recalled one of the most memorable moments just before Hari Raya last year.
“We managed to provide 30 units of dentures to homeless people. It was such a meaningful moment for us to see their happy, smiling faces,” he said.
While DFTN started in Kuala Lumpur, there are long-term plans to expand it to other states.
This month saw DFTN starting to spread its wings to Kelantan and Sabah.
“In the future, we want to be in every state and we aim to have an independent DFTN team for each state,” said Dr Khairul Anwar.
Currently, challenges faced by DFTN include a lack of equipment and resources, and also issues related to dental regulations, specifically permits.
“Before conducting an activity outside of a dental clinic, it is a must to apply for a permit but sometimes it takes longer to approve and that affects our schedule for that month,” said Dr Khairul Anwar.
However, all the struggles are worth it when the dentists see how they can put a smile on the faces of those in need.
“Our motivation is the satisfaction that we feel when we bring them a new smile,” said Dr Abu Razali.
“Helping other people is also fun for us and it’s good seeing that more people are now interested to do charity work,” said Dr Khairul Anwar.