NJ dentist puts smiles on faces as volunteer in Jerusalem
Dr. Michele Schultz of Ocean Township has found a rewarding way to put her skills as a dentist to use outside her practice in Red Bank — by providing treatment to at-risk children and young adults in Jerusalem under the auspices of Dental Volunteers for Israel (DVI).
“I enjoy every opportunity to come to Israel to work in this wonderful organization,” she said, referring to DVI and American Friends of DVI; she has so far completed two week-long volunteer stints in Jerusalem, most recently at the end of June. The patients she has seen “otherwise would not receive dental treatment whatsoever,” she said, and “it’s totally for free. DVI allows me to give back to the underserved population, be they Jewish, Arab Israeli, or Palestinian. Personally, for me, it is a unique opportunity to give back in a small way to the people of Israel using my talents as a dentist.”
The DVI dentists see patients at the organization’s Trudi Birger Dental Clinic. Birger, a Shoah survivor, was a microbiologist and humanitarian who founded DVI in 1980 (she died in 2002). The clinic provides free dental care and oral health education to thousands of needy children and young adults — regardless of religious or ethnic origin — in Jerusalem each year.
“I really can’t wait to go back,” said Schultz. “To see a smile on a face where there wasn’t one before brings me a lot of satisfaction.”
According to the DVI website, volunteer dentists from around the world, together with their Israeli colleagues, perform about 1,000 treatments each month at the clinic, led by director Dr. Ray Petel. In 2018, 133 DVI volunteers performed 10,836 treatments, helping 2,709 patients. During the past 39 years, over 4,500 dentists have volunteered with DVI, treating thousands without charge every year.
Dentists hear about the organization from colleagues and at professional meetings and conventions.
“Most of the volunteers we get are by word of mouth,” said Dr. Don Simkin, DVI’s treasurer, who is also head of the organization’s communications committee. “We are pretty well-known among the dentists, and we get a good response.”
DVI is supported by donations and benefactors; on average, it costs $180 to treat each child and often more for young adults. The organization also provides an apartment for volunteers for the week each spends in Jerusalem. Not all the volunteers are Jewish.
“I really enjoy helping the patients who need the expertise I am glad to offer,” Schultz said. She particularly remembers working “with a mom and her kids, just trying to make their lives better.”
One patient she spent significant time with was a 19-year-old Arab Israeli from the Jabal Mukaber neighborhood in east Jerusalem. A troubled youth, he received dental care from Schultz at the clinic and assistance from a social worker.
Based on his initial X-rays, “this was someone who had never seen a dentist,” said Schultz. “With the cavities and condition of his mouth, he was very much at-risk.” After treating him, she said, “I feel he’ll now have a healthier life. To help a patient like that is why I enjoy volunteering.”
Schultz received her bachelor’s degree from Mount Holyoke College. In 1989, she received her doctor of medicine in dentistry degree from University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (now Rutgers School of Dental Medicine).
She continued her education through a general practice residency at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch. Today, she is a fellow of the American Academy of Orofacial Pain, a group of highly trained dentists who have focused their careers on alleviating a wide range of pain disorders.
Schultz is married to Andrew Robins, an environmental law attorney; they have three adult children and are members of Congregation Torat El in Oakhurst.
In addition to her private practice, Schultz is a clinical assistant professor at Rutgers School of Dental Medicine and Monmouth Medical Center. She has supervised student research that has been presented to the American Dental Education Association and participates in research through the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network. Her findings have been published in the Journal of Dental Education and Journal of Prosthetic Dentistry, and she has served as chair of the TMJ Department at Monmouth Medical Center, which has one of the largest dental departments in the state.
Schultz’s gratification at her volunteer service is evident by her determination: “I’m going back in March,” she said. “This is important to me.”