Promising Smiles Gives Hope to Low-Income Women
By Laura Christman
All SmilesSeptember 2014
By Laura Christman
A life can turn on a smile returned.
Promising Smiles, a program of Shasta Community Health Center and Soroptimist International of Downtown Redding, gives low-income women with missing and damaged teeth a change in look – and outlook – by providing free restorative dental work.
“It’s just astonishing,” says Lori Goyne, Soroptimist service chair. “When their smile is restored, their confidence is restored. They are able to join the rest of the world.”
Missing teeth can cause women to miss out on jobs, children’s activities and other parts of life, says Cheryl Russo, associate dental director for Shasta Community Health in Redding. “They are self-conscious. They have low self-esteem. They don’t smile. Some don’t even go out in public.”
Promising Smiles participant Roxanne was turned down for jobs because of missing teeth. Restorative work filled the top and bottom gaps, making her feel better about herself, according to a testimonial she provided for the program. “Before, I was depressed and would not leave the house. I think I can get a job now.”
Program participant Gina was laid off from a maid job and too self-conscious to smile during an interview for another job. When she got her new teeth, one of her first plans was to finally meet her son’s teacher. “I am looking forward to getting a job where I do not have to be hidden from the public,” she says.
Some Promising Smiles participants have tooth loss because of past drug use or domestic violence. The dental troubles also can be the result of going years without care because of lack of money and dental insurance.
“It is difficult for them to have access to appropriate dental care,” says Franklin Pierce, dental director for Shasta Community Health Center.
Most Promising Smiles participants are missing front teeth. The program provides crowns, bridges, partial or full dentures. Dentists address any situations affecting oral health.
“Other issues are pain, infection and other problems with teeth,” Pierce says.
Participants must be referred by a Shasta Community Health Center dentist or clinician. And they must be drug-free and sober. Priority is given to single women who provide the financial support for their families and those with education and career goals.
“That is who we are looking for – those who want to help themselves,” Goyne says.
Promising Smiles is in its fourth year. The program emerged from a brainstorming session by Soroptimist members looking for a unique program to meet a community need, Goyne says. “At that time, Medi-Cal was not covering any adult dental services.”
The effort meshes with Soroptimist’s charge of helping women. It launched with a $2,500 grant to Shasta Community Health Center, which has a dental clinic in downtown Redding. The mission of the nonprofit is to provide health care to the underserved.
“They have the dentists and the facilities in place, so it was a fantastic win-win partnership,” Goyne says.
Shasta Community Health Care uses money from Promising Smiles to pay for reconstructive materials and lab fees. Russo says the procedures could cost a patient $900 to $3,000 at a private dentist.
The initial $2,500 grant from Soroptimist helped three women, Russo says. The next year, The Women’s Fund of the Shasta Regional Community Foundation gave $10,000 to Promising Smiles. That was followed by an anonymous $10,000 donation in 2013. This year Soroptimist provided $4,700. Promising Smiles is now Downtown Redding Soroptimist’s signature project. It expects to donate at least $5,000 yearly, Goyne says.
Twenty-four women have been helped so far, and Russo says another four or five will be served with the remainder of this year’s funding.
Medi-Cal restored some dental services for adults this year, but coverage is restricted and doesn’t include all treatment needed by the women, Pierce says. As a dentist, working with Promising Smiles participants is rewarding, he says. The patients are very appreciative.
“We’ve had women in tears after they have had their teeth restored. It’s been very heartwarming,” Pierce says.
Smile restoration sets other change in motion, Goyne says. It can be an important step to seeking and getting a job that will improve a family’s financial picture. And that helps the whole community.
“It’s not some froufy self-improvement thing,” Goyne says. “They are on their way to getting on their feet again.”
Shasta Community Health Center
Soroptimist International of Downtown Redding