Passion for Education Prompts Florida Dentist to Make Monthly Mission Trips

May 27, 2016
Ed Rabinowitz

Arun Garg, DMD, has a competitive spirit and a passion for oral health. What he's accomplished in his career would be hard to beat.

Arun Garg, DMD, never thought he would make 42 trips to the Dominican Republic. At least not within a relatively short period of time.

Eight years ago Garg and several of his colleagues made their first trip to the Dominican to do implants, bone grafts, and to teach. He figured to make the trip once every two years, perhaps once a year.

But then the phone began to ring. And it didn’t stop ringing. The originally planned annual trip became semi-annual. Then every three months. Then every other month. And now the trip has become a monthly event.

“And the number of [dental professionals] we take with us has grown,” Garg says. “The benefit to the locals is they receive incredible care at no cost. And I get to do what my passion is, which is teach.”

Very Gratifying

Garg, founder of the Center for Dental Implants, leads a team of more than 25 dental professionals to the Dominican Republic every month for three days to provide a wide range of services, from simple cleaning to complex surgery—all free of charge.

Through the charity he founded, The Garg Foundation, Garg has sponsored traveling missions to various countries, but the trips to Santo Domingo in the Dominican have been the most frequent.

“We do three days of surgery,” Garg explains. “There are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday surgeries.”

All of which is ironic for someone whose father, a retired academic physician, encouraged him to go into engineering because, “Medicine is tough. You should do engineering instead, and work for a company 8 to 5.” Yet here he is, in addition to his regular work, making weekly trips to the Dominican Republic.

It’s because Garg loves what he does.

“I would do all of this for free,” he says. “What bowling is for some people, what watching sports on television is for some people, this is my golf. This is my bowling. Just as someone is on the golf course on Saturday, I get to operate on Saturday. It’s my relaxation, my hobby. And they pay me for my hobby. Wow.”

Welcome Reception

Garg recalls the first of his 42 trips to the Dominican. He selected the location because it was home to a member of his staff, and she helped make the arrangements. Garg also made a preliminary trip so as to eliminate any possible surprises. Still, it was an eye-opening experience.

“It was a bit more rudimentary than I expected,” he says. “I expected maybe a little more as far as the physical facilities. But the patients were much nicer than I ever expected.”

Garg overcame the initial culture shock, and has since worked with city officials in Santo Domingo to construct a building dedicated to seeing patients. The 26-chair facility, which was funded by his foundation, is complete with state-of-the-art dental equipment enabling Garg and his colleagues to provide approximately $2 million in free dental care on each trip.

But it’s important to note that The Garg Foundation is not your garden-variety charity.

“A lot of times what charities do, they’re in the business of raising money,” Garg says. “They do charity balls, and charity events, and they raise money. And who knows how they spend it.”

Instead, Garg established a charity that did not set out to recruit funding from others.

“So far, 99% of the money that’s been donated to my charity has been me,” he says. “We bought a two-story apartment building and gutted it. And so the framework was there. We added steel beams and a third floor for a freestanding clinic. And shipped everything from America. It may not surpass every clinic in America, but it’s equivalent to the top one or two percent. Everybody I know tells me that.”

Love of Education

Garg spent 18 years as a full-time professor at the University of Miami School of Medicine. He trained residents, published eight textbooks, and developed many new surgical techniques. But after leaving the university and opening three private clinics in Miami, he still had a passion for teaching.

To feed that passion, he launched Implant Seminars as a way to provide continuing post-graduate dental education programs nationwide. His curriculum and conferences have trained thousands of dentists across the country in the techniques and procedures for successful implants.

“Folks go to dental school or medical school and they come out with the latest and greatest,” Garg says. “But five years later new techniques become available, or new equipment becomes available. Would you want your physician or your dentist using techniques from 1970 on you?”

The answer, of course, is no.

“There are techniques now where there’s zero sting; where I can give an injection to the patient and they’re wondering when I’m going to start giving the injection,” Garg says. “If we can take that sting away for the patients, then the 18-20% who don’t go to the dentist every year, we open up care for those folks. It improves the practice, and it improves patients’ quality of life.”

Competition Fuels Career

Garg doesn’t have a great deal of spare time today, but he played competitive tennis throughout high school and in college, and still tries to get out at least once a week to play.

“I play tennis for the fun of it,” says Garg, who also enjoys water sports including boating and fishing. But he acknowledges that the competitive nature of sports has likely carried over and contributed to his competitive and entrepreneurial spirit in his career.

“I think so,” he says when asked of the connection. “I’ve never read studies or anything to that effect, so it’s just a gut feeling. But I definitely think playing competitive sports contributes to developing that competitive edge.”