A Passion for Making People Smile

An Idaho dentist’s charitable project is providing much-needed help to children and adults in Thailand

Dr. Bryce Larsen with Larsen Dental Care knows a thing or two about service to others. The Pocatello, Idaho resident started doing humanitarian trips while attending the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine. Initially he went overseas because he wanted more surgical experience than dental school was providing. But he came home from his first jaunt with something far more valuable: a passion for providing dental services in underserved countries around the world.

Larsen’s first humanitarian trips were in Jamaica and Belize. His next journey took him to Thailand, which ended up being a life-changing experience. “Thailand struck an emotional cord with me, and I just had a feeling that I needed to concentrate efforts and continue helping the people of Northern Thailand,” he says.

As a result, Larsen and some friends started Thaismiles, a humanitarian nonprofit focused on serving the dental needs of the Hill Tribe people. In February 2017, an all-volunteer dental team traveled to the city of Nan to provide education and perform dental procedures on over 800 people, most of them children.

Larsen finds great joy in helping people smile again. “The Thai people are extremely warm, friendly, humble, considerate and compassionate,” he says. “All the kids I worked on in Thailand would give me and my assistant a ‘Y’ before leaving—the ‘Y’ is reverently putting your palms together and bowing your head—which is a gesture of gratitude and respect.”

Some of the children had never experienced a dental visit before and were understandably scared, he says. But they still gave the “Y” and smiled through the tears.

While he is eternally grateful for the volunteers who work side-by-side with him, Larsen is also quick to acknowledge that Thaismiles couldn’t have gotten its start without the aid of Daphne Larsen and THAInitiative, an Idaho nonprofit that’s been doing academic and educational work in Nan for five years.

Larsen advises anyone interested in this type of volunteer work to find and surround themselves with other professionals who share similar interests. “I have gained eternal friends on my various trips and continue to find humanitarians with similar life goals,” he explains. “There is nothing better than to work with a group of compadres toward a common goal: to make the world a better place while enjoying all her beauty.”

While starting a nonprofit is a step not everyone is willing to take, anyone can inquire about ways to get involved with an existing group. “We, as dentists, need a ‘mental break’ from the office on occasion, and a humanitarian trip or forming a nonprofit is an excellent way to do just that,” Larsen says.

Larsen and his team welcome help in any form. The next trip to Thailand is scheduled for December 27, 2018 to January 6, 2019. He is hoping to expand last year’s team from 17 volunteers to 30. People with dental experience, including specialists, dentists, hygienists and dental assistants, are strongly encouraged to get involved. The team is also providing some limited medical assistance as well.

The 2018 trip will cover new territory, something Larsen is looking forward to. “We are planning on going to even more remote locations on this next trip, specifically near Laos,” he says. It’s sure to be an adventure that will change lives—those of the people being served as well as those doing the service.

Find more information about Thaismiles on their website, thaismiles.org, or Facebook page, facebook.com/thaismilesmission. If you have specific questions about Thai Smiles, contact Larsen at drbryce10@gmail.com.