Dentist uses prayer to bring smiles to Salvadorans

The days are long, spent seeing dozens of patients, but are an important part of giving back.

Dr. Doug Harty, a Center Grove-area dentist, spent the past week seeing patients in the poorest neighborhoods of El Salvador.

Harty went with Bridges of Hope International, a missionary organization, which recently sent a group of medical professionals, including Indianapolis area physicians, a physical therapist and an ultrasound technician, to reach out to people in the country who otherwise would have little if any medical care.

The trip was far from Harty’s first.

Harty has traveled to some of the poorest regions on the planet on more than 100 medical mission trips to Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Columbia, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, India and Cambodia.

On each of his journeys, Harty gets more excited about the work he does and his mission to help people through basic medical care and dental services, as well as through sharing his faith.

“I think it’s God’s calling on my life to give back and to serve others who have zero or no possibility of any dental care,” he said.

Harty, a Center Grove High School graduate and dentist for 32 years, and the group of doctors partnered with a local university’s medical students and professors and saw between 400 and 500 patients per day.

“We try to go to the poorest areas where people don’t have access (to medical care), where it’s limited or more importantly, they can’t afford it,” he said.

On Thursday, Harty had seen 20 patients, and was able to do simple procedures like fillings for the people he saw.

He also had spent a few days getting to know the medical students and helping them learn one of the most important parts of the job — truly feeling like you’re helping people.

“It’s not all about making money. It’s not all that’s fulfilling in life,” he said.

If the salary is all you’re after in this business, you’ll never feel truly fulfilled, he said.

Young students are motivated to finish school quickly and start paying back their loans, but he tries to remind them of the reason most people get into medicine in the first place — treating patients.

Dealing with the patients they see on the trip is so fulfilling because their needs are apparent, he said.

“This is what we do for a living all day. It’s not a big deal for us to do, but when we’re doing it here, where the people are so poor it’s a really big deal for them,” he said.

Besides attending to their medical needs, Harty and the other physicians like that they get a chance to learn more about the people they’re caring for, he said.

“We pride ourselves on spending time with people,” he said. “We can give them medications, but we also ask how we can pray for them. That’s worth (a lot), that someone took the time to put them first and be concerned about them.”

During a previous medical mission trip to Central America, Harty met a man who was a member of the local military. After being treated, Harty asked if there was anything he could pray with him about. The man immediately burst into tears and told Harty about how his son had been murdered.

“He couldn’t do anything to protect him,” Harty said. “We prayed together, and although it didn’t change the outcome, it meant something to him that someone took the time to pray with him.”

As he prepared for his last day of work in El Salvador, Harty reflected on the experience of the trip.

“It’s just so beautiful,” he said. “The great beauty of the country — the mountains, volcanoes and the people. The people are quiet, respectful and just lovely. They’ll do anything to help you. Everyone wants to be helpful and do whatever they can. We’ve had people tag along that weren’t associated with this group. Some are volunteering with us. It’s crazy how it all works.”

The Harty File

Name: Doug Harty

Education: Center Grove High School, 1975; Indiana University, 1979; Indiana University School of Dentistry, 1983.

Family: wife, Debbie; two children

Work: Dentist at Greenwood Dentist

Mission work: Has been on more than 100 medical mission trips to Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Columbia, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, India and Cambodia

Anna Herkamp is an editorial assistant at the Daily Journal. She can be reached at or 317-736-2712.