For Dr. Kelly Halle Brown, (shown, above center) helping the less fortunate isn’t just a side gig; it’s a way of life — and it always has been.
Although Dr. Brown’s Smile On initiative, which provides dentures to underserved patients in the exurbs of Philadelphia, celebrates its first anniversary this month, the 39-year-old dentist has been dedicated to giving back nearly as long as she’s been alive.
Born and raised in central New Mexico, Dr. Brown bore witness to enormous economic gaps, particularly among Native Americans, the homeless and the poor. “A prominent and recurring disparity was their limited access to health care,” she says. Her father, a dentist, worked hard to narrow those divides. “I learned from his commitment to his community.”
Now a solo practitioner at Upper Bucks Dental Arts in Quakertown, Pennsylvania — her practice marks one year in business in December as well — she calls “humanitarian efforts on a global scale” her top priority. “Dentistry is more than a career,” she says. “It’s a tool with which I can directly affect others.”
That, too, she learned at her father’s side, particularly the semiannual mission trips on which she accompanied him. She cites a trip to Chihuahua, Mexico, as especially formative. “Observing the immediate, profound impact the care his group had on this rural population left a deep impression.”
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, Dr. Brown lived in South Korea for two years, where she was a volunteer teacher at an orphanage; after returning to the U.S., she began donating dental services regularly, and after a spell in corporate dentistry was chief dental officer of a Federally Qualified Health Center in Pennsylvania. That experience inspired her to establish Smile On. “It’s exciting,” she says. “I can’t wait to see how it develops. It might not be just dentures, since we no longer have limitations on the treatment services we can offer.”
Another underserved group she works with: veterans, via the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center. She’s planning mission trips to Tanzania, Vietnam, Brazil and Chile, to which she’ll bring the same kind of care she dispenses daily to her Upper Bucks patients, especially of those with dental anxieties. “The fulfillment comes not only from the challenge of improving someone’s smile, but from witnessing the genuine emotion behind that smile,” she says. “We build a relationship via the bond of trust. Our patients and our staff become a dental family.”