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Dentist finds motivation in outreach programs

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Sam Salopek
  • 349th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs


TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- She saw her. The scared little girl was only five or six years old and the girl needed her help, having possibly never sought dental care before. The tiny patient was in pain. Her mother tried to calm her, but she did not understand. The young dentist tried to sooth her fears, but did not prevail. Her tiny face is now engrained in the dentist’s mind forever, the little girl from Jamaica.

For Capt. (Dr.) Kim Burford, 60th Dental Squadron general dentist, participating in humanitarian efforts reinforces why she wanted to join the dentistry field.

In high school, Burford took a career development course where she had to shadow a profession, said Burford. She decided to shadow one of her friend’s orthodontists.

“It’s funny how you can remember the exact day that you realized what career field you wanted to go into,” said Burford.

From that day, Burford’s efforts were placed in accomplishing her career goals. However, professional success was a mere side effect of her compassion and service to others.

“She has an interpersonal leadership style,” said Capt. Kara Dern, 60th DS general dentist. “She was the person that every Airman in this clinic went to, if anything was going on or they needed help. I think it speaks to hear ability to get to know people and have that trust level.”

“I love my patients, especially the ones that are ongoing,” said Burford. “It’s bad that they have a lot work to do, but it’s fun to interact and talk.”

The passion to care for others pushed Burford to find further service in the Jamaican Outreach Program.

The people the team saw and seeing how grateful they were to receive the dental treatment they needed was awesome, said Burford.

“We had some hygienists go, because some of these people had never had a cleaning in their entire life,” said Burford.

Burford took heart in teaching individuals how to care for their own oral hygiene, especially young children. She believes that starting individuals young in understanding dental care is the best way to diminish future pain and suffering.

“We did a lot of hygiene education,” said Burford. “There was a little tiny school that’s right next to the clinic. A group of us would go over there and give fluoride treatments and emphasize the importance of hygiene.”

She really enjoyed teaching and mentoring people with hands on experience during her humanitarian mission, said Dern.

During the three-day humanitarian trip, the team cared for 431 patients.

The Jamaican Outreach Program strengthened Burford’s love of dentistry and service. She is now working to bring that experience to her peers. Burford is planning an upcoming humanitarian mission scheduled for May.

Burford is an example of perseverance and leadership to her fellow Airmen.

“She has overcome a lot of personal and medical struggles and still not have it affect her ability to do her job, which is amazing to watch,” said Dern. “She still does everything she is capable of doing and manages the emotional side of everything else in her personal life.”

Burford continually works to better herself for her patients, Airmen and the mission. She strives to be and do more for the benefit of those she impacts.