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Give a smile and get more than you bargained for

March 23, 2010
The nonprofit orthodontic foundation Smile for a Lifetime was created for families for whom a beautiful smile seems as out of reach as a walk on the moon. For those dentists who become involved with S4L, the smiles given away will never amount to those they receive in return.
By Allison Ruchaber“Smile!” ... “Say Cheese!” ... When the camera clicks, we don’t even think about it. We plaster a smile on our faces and wait for the flash. After all, it’s just a smile. It’s so ingrained in us, that we bare those teeth without a second thought. We, like so many others, often take that simple expression for granted. For those who have never had to worry about the cost of orthodontia or how they will pay for the health of their children’s smiles, a smile comes naturally. But there are those for whom a beautiful smile seems as out of reach as a walk on the moon. These are the families for whom Smile for a Lifetime was created. “If you see a friend without a smile, give him one of yours.” This old proverb could be the motto and mission of Smile for a Lifetime, an organization dedicated to giving smiles away. S4L, as members refer to it, is an orthodontic foundation established by Dr. Benjamin G. Burris of Jonesboro, Arkansas, in 2008. Through this nonprofit foundation, local orthodontic providers aim to reach individuals who have not had the opportunity to acquire assistance due to financial reasons or other special needs. Locally controlled and managed by a local board of directors, each approved orthodontist is the “founder and orthodontic provider” for his or her area and community. For these doctors, there is minimum expense to use the Smile for a Lifetime foundation business model, but for this small fee, doctors are privy to a Web site full of resources, a national executive director, Aimee Spencer, to assist each individual chapter, the opportunity to be part of a foundation with a stellar reputation, the privilege of serving underprivileged children in his or her community, and brochures customized for each doctor on a local level including the doctor’s personal biography and contact information. Doesn’t that seem worth the small price? And for the children treated through S4L’s members, the outcome is priceless.Leo F. Buscaglia, renowned lecturer and author, once said, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” And that’s exactly what Smile for a Lifetime has the power to do ... to offer children who may not otherwise have the opportunity for orthodontia the chance to smile ... for a lifetime.The testimonials keep coming from kids who have had the S4L experience. Lee Lamberson, an 18-year-old from Jonesboro, Arkansas, said, “When my teacher told me I had been selected, I almost cried. This is the best thing that has ever happened to me.” And one mother of a S4L recipient stated, “It was the happiest day of my life to see Sammy receive free braces ... Thank you all from the bottom of my heart, and may God bless each and every one of you.”Smile for a Lifetime is changing lives every day. But more than that, it is changing lives forever. But while it may seem to some like simply a “feel-good” organization, it is also a chance for doctors to increase their own name recognition and practice reputation while doing something positive for those in need. Smile for a Lifetime was created to impact the lives and futures of those who could not otherwise afford a smile transformation, but its impact reaches beyond feeling and emotion. In fact, this charitable organization has also become a valuable marketing tool for the doctors who have founded S4L chapters in their local communities. And while many may feel that it is uncouth to mention marketing when children’s smiles and futures are at stake, it is undoubtedly an added benefit that comes along with making a difference in children’s lives. It simply cannot be denied.Patients are drawn to doctors who do good work both in and out of the office. This charitable work markets itself, morphing from the gift of a smile into positive, word-of-mouth advertising that spreads throughout the community and beyond. In fact, the doctors who have wholeheartedly embraced S4L, and have established their own chapters, have not found their profits decreasing in light of the fact that they are giving away up to two orthodontic cases per month. Rather, the positive news has traveled and enticed other paying patients to visit these practices. After all, any doctor who gives away free braces must really care. One such doctor who has found that being part of Smile for a Lifetime has increased both his inner happiness and outward profitability is Dr. Donald Montano. Dr. Montano was instrumental in developing the S4L concept and founded the second chapter of the organization. In fact, when Dr. Montano first heard about Smile for a Lifetime in June 2008, it was little more than a concept, an idea yet to be realized. In September of 2008, Dr. Montano called Dr. Burris to follow up on what he believed to be an exceptional and life-changing idea and encouraged Dr. Burris to have it up and running by year’s end. The approval for Smile for a Lifetime came through in late January 2009 and is now more than 44 chapters strong and thriving.Dr. Montano believes that what sets S4L apart from many other charitable programs is the fact that it puts doctors in the driver’s seat and in control of their own success. He believes that while most doctors do participate in charity work, the beauty of S4L is that it is highly organized, offers countless tools that can be shared with new chapters, gives doctors the benefit of a strong support group, offers autonomy, and can be modified to suit individual providers. In addition, doctors who found S4L chapters receive all of the recognition for what they are doing and each doctor who sets up a chapter in his or her community is the founder and leader of his or her own chapter.Another benefit of the Smile for a Lifetime organization is that individual doctors are given the freedom to treat as many or as few patients as they choose as long as they reach the minimum of six patients per year. These patients are chosen by each doctor’s local board, which is made up of prominent members of the community. Dr. Montano’s board consists of a news director, an attorney, two CPAs, the owner of a marketing firm and a local NBC affiliate. These members are responsible for selecting patients and reviewing applications, while Dr. Montano acts as an advisor in the process. Just as in Dr. Montano’s patient review process, each local board sets the rules, qualifications, and age limits for applicants and is responsible for the assessment of social needs. In addition, the board of each local S4L chapter ultimately chooses which patients the doctor will treat. Currently S4L relies on a quarterly application process but is considering transitioning to an annual campaign.Because many applicants are members of hardworking families who do not respond well to the word “charity,” Dr. Montano chooses to give away smile “scholarships,” and his S4L patients couldn’t be happier to accept them. He sees his S4L patients during normal business hours and utilizes all treatment options, depending on the individual case and the child’s particular needs. It is a win-win situation according to Dr. Montano. He feels great about the service he can provide to those in need of a new smile, and he has had remarkable feedback from active patients and community members alike. Not only has he received accolades from patients and the satisfaction that comes from giving back, but he has also received name recognition from news coverage surrounding Smile for a Lifetime and his individual participation in such a valuable charitable work. Dr. Montano is pleased to have had counselors from his local high school bring their own kids in as a result of the fact that he is a doctor who places a high priority on making smiles accessible to all. In addition, his local dentists have been very supportive, with one periodontist in his community offering six free implants to a patient in need. So while Dr. Montano does market the S4L program through the use of Internet-based promotions, such as monthly e-mails and quarterly newsletters, much of his practice growth has come from word-of-mouth advertising from satisfied patients and the positive news coverage he received as a result of his role in Smile for a Lifetime. So not only has he experienced all the positive emotions that come from doing something you truly believe in, he has also grown his practice and reputation in the process. If you ask Dr. Montano, he has only great things to say about the foundation. In fact, when asked if there was anything he would like to tell other doctors who might be considering founding their own Smile for a Lifetime chapter, he said, “Personally it has been the most rewarding charity work I’ve ever done ... far more valuable than writing a check.”And the organization is growing by leaps and bounds, now boasting more than 44 individual chapters, far exceeding last year’s goal of 25 by the end of December. That in itself speaks volumes about the work that Smile for a Lifetime is doing. It speaks to the fact that a smile should never be taken for granted and that great things come from giving a smile away. And, as Dr. Montano could tell you, the smiles he has given will never amount to those he receives in return. For more information about Smile for a Lifetime, please visit How did you feel when you received notification that your child had been chosen by the foundation’s board to receive free braces? A: It was the happiest day of my life to see Sammy receive braces. Your foundation is God-sent, and I (we) are so fortunate to have this happen. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart, and may God bless each and every one of you. — Suzann Cowgill, mother of Sammy Cowgill, Pocahontas, AR“For a moment, I actually felt the happiness of a child, the feeling that we adults find difficult to grasp in our busy lives. Thank you so very much!” — Kathy Olney, mother of Skylar Olney, Jonesboro, ARQ: What would you like donors and potential donors of the foundation to know about how their financial support will affect your life and the life of your child?A: Right or wrong, we live in a society where first impressions of people are lasting, and a smile is a tremendous part of a first impression. To make a donation to this foundation not only provides braces, but it also provides a child with a lifetime of possible achievements that they may not otherwise have had. It builds a child’s confidence to know they can go into a job interview and hold their head up high. My child will grow up wanting to positively change someone else’s life ... just like someone did for him. — Suzann Cowgill, mother of Sammy Cowgill, Pocahontas, AR“The noble donations received by the foundation have removed the financial barriers of those chosen and enabled our children to receive the best orthodontic care available.” — Kathy Olney, mother of Skylar Olney, Jonesboro, AR“Thank you for giving Skylar the opportunity for a life-changing experience. The staff at Visual and Performing Arts as well as Skylar and her family will always be thankful for the life-changing experience that Smile for a Lifetime Orthodontic Foundation has provided for her. Your organization is a perfect example of what all Americans should be doing to help our fellow man. May God bless your organization and those responsible for it.” — Ron Williams, Principal, Visual & Performing Arts, Jonesboro, ARQ: What will the end result (straight teeth) mean to your family? A: Parents never want anything to hold back their child. Kathleen has always felt self-conscious about her smile. Because of this gift, she will enter adulthood with a new level of self-confidence. I hope that someday she and I will both be able to be contributors to help make the dream of braces come true for someone else. — Dana Otterpohl, mother of Kathleen Otterpohl, Cherry Valley, ARA former full-time employee of Peniche & Associates, one of the nation’s premier orthodontic consulting companies, Allison Ruchaber has a plethora of orthodontic industry writing experience and currently writes for Peniche & Associates and its many clients. In addition, she freelances for other health-care clientele, including a medical spa and spa consulting firm. A graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Allison possesses an advertising degree and a voracious appetite for vocabulary. She has widespread expertise in the creation of marketing and promotional materials including letters, advertisements, professional articles, direct mailers, speeches, press releases, and Web site content. She is the mother of two and enjoys reading, creative writing, and the guiltiest pleasure of all ... reality TV. She is a certified Project Runway addict.