Dental Surgeon Finds Fulfillment in Volunteer Work

June 7, 2017
Ed Rabinowitz

Growing up, Texas dentist Jayesh Patel's passion for working with his hands and helping others was sparked by his parents. Now, a father himself, Patel has not forgotten the value of giving back to the community. Armed with his dental tools, an endless supply of energy and an abundance of compassion, you can find Patel offering free dental services to those in need. Read on to learn more about Patel's efforts to make dental care accessible to as many people as he can.

After a long day at his practice, Dr. Jayesh Patel unwinds by volunteering his services to communities surrounding Waco, Texas.

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Two-hour round trips each month to perform free oral surgery? Jayesh Patel says he enjoys the drive. What’s more, he thrives on giving back and has built a career on using his skills to help those in need.

Jayesh Patel, D.D.S., F.I.C.O.I., F.A.A.I.P., received his first filling in high school. He spent the first 10 years of his life growing up in England, where he had scarce access to dental care. A light bulb turned on when that first filling was done.

“I thought, ‘this might be something for me,’” Patel recalls. “It’s very hands on, and I love working with my hands.”

That affinity started at a young age. Patel’s mother worked at a leather factory and would bring home leather goods that needed stitching. Helping his mother instilled in him the importance of tactile work.

When he moved to the U.S., his family entered the hospitality business, which meant Patel spent much of his time working, cleaning and preparing rooms for guests. Paying attention to detail was part of the work ethic drilled into him at a young age.

“Anything we ever touched, my parents wanted to make sure that we did it right the first time,” Patel says.

When he made the decision to pursue a career in dentistry, the surgical component caught his attention. Today, that is Patel’s focus at his Affordable Dentures practice in Waco, Texas.

COMMUNITY MINDED

Patel loves serving his community, as well as the surrounding communities, and takes any opportunity to use his skills for the benefit of others. He volunteered with the Belton Body of Christ Community Clinic in Belton, Texas, a 50-minute drive each way, for the past seven years. On the fourth Thursday of each month, after treating patients all day at his private practice, Patel makes the trip to perform gratis oral surgery for those in need.

“I feel very fortunate that I have a gift I’ve learned to use to the best of my ability,” Patel explains. “Why not give that back to the community? There are a lot of people out there who don’t have access to fair dental care.”

The passion to help began during Patel’s sophomore year in dental school, when he signed up to visit a remote village in Mexico. He has volunteered his time ever since, and he says it does not matter how tired he is at the end of his regular workday. Walking into the clinic revitalizes him.

“It’s almost like God has hit the reset button for you,” Patel says. “You walk through the door, and it’s like starting over. Like I just woke up. I feel like I want to see everybody who shows up, and it never feels like a burden.”

That feeling, Patel says, comes from the people he helps, be it at the clinic, his private practice, or those he sees when volunteering for the Texas Mission of Mercy on weekends. Many travel 90 miles for care, living from paycheck to paycheck or on Social Security checks, often counting pennies for the gas required to make the long drive. Some of them save up for months in order to visit his practice.

He also cites his mother, who passed away a couple years ago, as a source of empowerment.

“We all love and praise our mothers,” he says. “But she was just a very special person. What I learned from that woman growing up — everything and anything you can mention I equate to her. Just live life to the fullest and pass it on to my patients.”

COACHING KIDS

Patel began coaching youth basketball a little over a year ago. His youngest sons, ages six and 12, love basketball. When they went out for youth teams in their neighborhood and Patel, a basketball lover in his own right, learned there were openings for coaches, he signed on as well.

“It’s so rewarding to see these kids work with you, look up to you and respect you,” Patel says. “We show them how to have fun, respect one another, and honor the game. For young kids like this, it’s building blocks. They can learn and have fun at the same time.”

For Patel, it is also a way to clear his mind.

“We all love what we do,” he says. “But sometimes we get burned out. You need to take a step aside and do something else. This is my ‘something else.’”

IGNITING THE SPARK

Patel says much of his volunteering and mission work started by joining local dental societies, which provide a space for dentists to share and learn from each other. Being that the one he belongs to is a large, central chapter that pulls in dentists from about a 100-mile radius, you never know who might walk in the door.

“One day, a dentist who lives in Belton came to one of our meetings,” Patel recalls. “He just started asking, ‘Hey, we’re looking for volunteers. Is anybody interested?’ I emailed him that night when I got home to learn more about it, and I signed up.”

Patel says that in some ways, volunteering becomes an addiction. When he learned the Texas Mission of Mercy was looking for dentists to volunteer for weekend missions held several times a year in remote locations, he jumped at the chance.

He wasn’t alone his eldest son often joins him on these mission trips, and his son’s friends are inspired to give back as well.

“They’re intrigued by this,” Patel says. “It’s like a chain reaction, a domino effect, and that’s how it starts.”

Now Patel wants to take his charitable work to the next level. Patel hopes to take his colleagues and family to his parents’ home country, India, to help people without access to dental care.

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