When Carmen began her free treatment through Smiles for Success in 2016, she and her dentist became fast friends. Now with a perfect smile, Carmen’s job search brought her right back to that same person, Dr. Donna, where she worked at the New York office’s front desk for years. The two stayed by each other’s sides until the very end when Dr. Donna passed away in 2018. With no close family, Carmen insisted on compforting her in her time of need. The bonds between patient and doctor created by the Smiles For Success program go far beyond the dental chair.

Shift from dental schools to private practice

Established in 1995 through the American Association of Women Dentists (AAWD), Smiles For Success has been lifting up women and giving them the confidence they need to face a job interview ever since. Dentists volunteer their time “to assist women in transition from welfare to work who cannot afford the cost of dental care.” 

Until recently, the program’s doctors were dental school students eager to learn and always willing to perform treatment. But Smiles For Success was paying a price. “We were losing money. It was totally a financial thing. Our funds had been just slowly going down, down, down,” said Dr. Mary Martin, president of Smiles For Success. “We loved being through the dental schools. And we had worked a lot through grants, but the grants dried up. Dental schools aren’t free.” As a result, Smiles For Success shifted focus back to private practice dentists.

“The switch gives us the opportunity to engage our active AAWD dentists more,” noted Dr. Brittany Bergeron, AAWD president and ex-officio board member. “Our members really like the philanthropic outreach part of AAWD that is Smiles For Success. It caused us to pull back and regroup and realize that we needed to shift that focus to better serve our members.” Moving back to private practices gives Smiles For Success the chance to call on female dentists involved in the AAWD while saving costs. Dentists will volunteer their time, practice, and materials with no cost to Smiles For Success.

Pilot program

The new pilot program kicked off with three practices in Texas, Maryland, and Georgia, with plans to expand. “Centering the program in a community around the practitioner with other fellow AAWD members who can help support, raise funds, awareness, and interact with centers for women, has made it much easier to find dentists for the program,” said Dr. Mary Beth Reidy, vice president and director of the organization’s student chapters. Smiles For Success is currently searching for a member of the AAWD to volunteer their practice and time in the Atlanta, Georgia area. 

Hope amid pandemic

“It’s going to be hard to restart a program like this at a time like this. And yet I feel we need something to look forward to, to feel good about,” said Dr. Martin. “We still need that ability to say, ‘wow, this is why I went to dental school; this is why I do this.’ And I think Smiles For Success is a way for dentists to get that feeling back.”

If you’d like to get involved with Smiles For Success and the American Association of Women Dentists, visit their websiteand complete a volunteer appliation or email info@smilesforsuccess.org.