It seems fitting that a Wilmington, North Carolina practitioner ventured to unfamiliar territory for his most recent dental mission. Dr. Tristan Hamilton didn’t always envision himself as a dentist, but it was humanitarian work that led him to this path.

An early inclination led him to Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, where he earned degrees in Architecture. After a few years in Washington, D.C. working for a high level design firm, he decided to follow his heart to the mission field. Efforts in Costa Rica led to medical mission work in Zambia. Dr. Hamilton’s heart for serving people won out over designing buildings, and he ventured to many more countries working with the underserved:  Mexico, Belize, and South Korea, to name a few.  In 2009, he became a Doctor of Dental Surgery at Loma Linda University School of Dentistry in California and he’s committed himself to compassion in the dental field ever since.

In between work at his dental practice and family time with wife April,  son, Tennyson,  daughter, August, and two tabby cats, Hemingway and Havana, Dr. Hamilton dedicated time in June for a 12-day humanitarian junket to Cuba.

“Cuba is such a land of wonder. (Fidel) Castro’s power in that island is palpable,” he said.

After 12 days up close and personal with residents there, he should know. “I gained such a connection. I ministered to them personally, I really showed them love.”

While 32 members of the Maranatha nonprofit group set about building a church, Dr. Hamilton and three others on the dental team (a translator and Dr. Hamilton’s pre-dental student brother, Tyler, among them) set up on location in a hotel.

null“The first day we had maybe 10 to 13 patients. After that, though, there were lines out the door.”

Despite not having a mobile dental unit, extractions, cleanings, and oral hygiene education (“possibly the most valuable part”) filled their days.

That and research for future visits.

Dr. Hamilton said he has been asked by Havana Seminary School to return to Cardenas, a church village south of Varadero Beach.

Next trip he’ll be more prepared for the air travel.


Dr. Hamilton treating a dental patient in Cuba earlier this year.

“I flew from Cancun to Havana on Air Cubana,” said Dr. Tristan Hamilton. “Everybody claps when their feet hit the ground,” he joked.

He’ll also pack extra toothpaste. After awaiting customs approval for 3.5 hours, a small “donation”  of that commodity hastened process.

“It was as simple as that – toothpaste.”

When he’s not treating patients in far flung locales or practicing with Dr. David Norwood at Willow Creek Dental Center, Hendersonville, N.C., Dr. Hamilton can be found leading Dental Practice Design Seminars at Benco Dental CenterPoint showrooms, including one taking place later this week in Costa Mesa, California.