Student Outreach Provides Free Dental Care

January 28, 2015    |  

A healthy smile can help someone achieve success. The students who volunteer with the Smiles for Success program see that success firsthand. They provide dental treatment for women who are working to rebuild their lives and re-enter the workforce.

The School of Dentistry was the first dental school in the nation to host a student-based program of Smiles for Success, an outreach effort launched in 1995 by the American Association of Women Dentists. The program provides free dental treatment for women who are struggling to re-enter the workforce after suffering abuse, addiction, or financial hardship. “These women have really been crippled by their dentition. It’s rewarding to see the change in the patients, how their whole demeanor improves when they receive treatment,” says associate professor Mary Beth Aichelmann-Reidy, DDS, who serves as director of the dental school programs at the Smiles for Success Foundation. Reidy launched the Smiles for Success program at the School of Dentistry in 2009 with student leaders Sarah Raymond, DDS ’10, Sara Kramer, DDS ‘10, and Dorie Frank, DDS ‘10.

The Smiles for Success patients face financial challenges as they complete job training programs. In many cases, government assistance does not pay for the restorative dental treatments they need. After being accepted into the Smiles for Success program, the women receive comprehensive dental treatment at the School of Dentistry from teams of third- and fourth-year dental student volunteers. Beyond short-term care, the students teach patients about dental hygiene so they are better able to maintain their oral health after they gain employment.

The students also learn valuable lessons. Leah Romay, DDS ’16, has developed stronger skills in periodontics by volunteering with Smiles for Success. “I’ve also learned about the importance of the dentist-patient relationship,” she says. “These women are entering the workforce again. We, as dental care providers, can give them confidence in their smile and in themselves.”

For Maricris Mangasi, DDS ’15, watching the women progress is extremely rewarding. When the patients first begin treatment, it can be challenging to gain their trust, she says. “At the end, when you’ve finished their treatment plan, they feel new and ready to go out and get a job,” she says. “It’s great to feel like I’m part of that progress.”