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Tomorrow's SMILES: restoring health, renewing hope

May 12, 2011
Dr. Kara Henderson explains her involvement in Tomorrow’s SMILES, and how her charitable work has made an impact on her both personally and professionally.
By Kara M. Henderson, DDSMy passion for dentistry grew out of a desire to help others feel great about themselves, inside and out. Our dental practice in Warrenton, N.C., prides itself on providing professional care with the utmost compassion to families in our small community. Over the years, we have been fortunate to extend our services, at no cost, to several young patients who needed cosmetic dentistry to improve not only their smiles, but also their self-esteem and future employability. When I discovered Tomorrow’s SMILES®, created by Dr. Ronald Goldstein through National Children’s Oral Health Foundation: America’s Toothfairy® (NCOHF), I was amazed that a national program already existed to support efforts like ours aimed at helping those patients who need it most. I decided on the spot to contact the program and become involved. I see so many students who are really motivated to do the right things with their lives in school, their community, and at home, but who face an almost impossible hurdle that directly affects all their hard work — their smile. As we all know, a beautiful smile can really influence how you see and feel about yourself. In a time of burgeoning self-awareness such as the teenage years, where everyone wants to just fit in, the last thing you need is an unattractive smile to make you stand out! Pascual, an 18-year-old male born with a cleft lip and palate, presented to my office with a bridge out. His demeanor was quiet and shy. He talked to us about school and family. Pascual's oral hygiene was fair at best. He said he'd had a toothache for a long time and that his anterior bridge was loose. Upon examination, we found that Pascual had previously completed surgery for a cleft lip and palate, and had congenitally missing laterals. He had a nonesthetic, bulbous bridge placed previously. The abutment tooth No. 5 was currently hyperemic. Our office immediately recommended Pascual for the Tomorrow’s SMILES program to help this promising young man reach his true potential.
BeforePascual was extremely motivated to take part in Tomorrow’s SMILES and complied excellently with home care from day one. Before esthetic service could begin, our office provided Pascual with extensive oral health education and treated his mild gum disease with FMPS and SC/RP appointments. Study models were taken, and our office found a generous partner in Absolute and Glidewell Dental Labs, who agreed to complete our Tomorrow’s SMILES cases for little or no charge. To provide Pascual with the true comprehensive esthetic and restorative care he needed, we replaced his failing, nonesthetic bridge and extracted an abscessed tooth. Pascual was thrilled when we informed him of our plans; he had always wanted these services but knew he could not afford it. The irony of the situation is that he could not afford the necessary treatment. So even though he would complete his schooling, without proper dental treatment his smile would prevent him from employment of certain jobs. Throughout this case, not only did we enjoy seeing the transformation occurring with his teeth, but with Pascual himself. After our first prep appointment, his temps were placed. By the next appointment, Pascual, who is normally expressionless and dressed in an unassuming way, arrived at our office in a sunflower-yellow cable knit sweater, collared shirt, and slacks! More importantly, he was wearing the biggest smile on his face and really wowed all the ladies in the office. We had just begun his case and already we could see this young gentleman transforming before our eyes! An important aspect of the Tomorrow’s SMILES program is the obligation of each teen participant to “Pay It Forward” by providing oral health education to younger children. As part of Pascual's Pay-It-Forward responsibilities, he chose to speak to a preschool called Spanish for Fun Academy, located in Chapel Hill, N.C. Using the NCOHF’s Toothfairy Island educational materials, Pascual and several others from our office conducted an interactive oral health program for the students. The program had three stations at which different age-appropriate activities took place. During the activities Pascual commented, "I had a great time. The kids enjoyed learning about their teeth and that they need to take care of them now so that later they [won’t] have the same problem I had. Before, I would have never stood in front of a group of people, especially younger kids, and spoken. Now I have so much confidence, it's great! I can smile now!"
AfterParticipating in Tomorrow’s SMILES is just one example of how, as dentists, we are all in a position to truly change people’s lives. I believe the adage that children are our future, and it is our responsibility to ensure every child has the tools to be successful in life. I have witnessed firsthand the power of a new smile and encourage all of you to give the gift of a new perspective on life and jolt of self-confidence to those who need it most. In his Tomorrow’s SMILES application essay, Pascual wrote, “I am embarrassed of my ugly smile. I nearly don’t want to talk or laugh because I am afraid that people will laugh at me. Having my dental treatment done [will be] a dream come true.” After his treatment, Pascual told me, “This program has given me so much. I feel comfortable ... like never before, with my new smile. I am very happy and thankful to Tomorrow’s SMILES ... I can smile thanks to them.”I am grateful that Dr. Ronald Goldstein had the vision and generosity to create this program that gives so many teens a second chance for a bright future. My experience working with Tomorrow's SMILES has been so rewarding, and the ability to give back to others is an indescribable feeling. I hope my story inspires dentists and specialists across the country to sign up for Tomorrow’s SMILES and commit to at least one case. You won’t regret it! About Tomorrow’s SMILES — Adolescence is a challenging time in every child’s life, filled with biological and social changes that can be confusing and frustrating. For adolescents struggling to fit in and prepare for a bright future, poor oral health can be devastating to their self-esteem and ability to thrive. While they are in school, many suffering teens are distracted by pain and embarrassment, causing them to perform poorly or disturb classmates. Every day more than 1,200 adolescents abandon their high school education completely and, in many cases, give up on themselves. This equates to almost one-third of U.S. students (about 1.3 million) dropping out of school each year (Editorial Projects in Education, 2009). Tomorrow’s SMILES, a special teen program of the National Children’s Oral Health Foundation: America’s Toothfairy (NCOHF), rescues disadvantaged young people from this downward socioeconomic spiral and the embarrassment, poor self esteem, and pain associated with unsightly dentition. NCOHF works with partner organizations, including the National Association of School Nurses (NASN) and Boys & Girls Clubs of America, to match caring practitioners like Dr. Henderson with prescreened local students in need of comprehensive restorative and esthetic dental services. Volunteer dentists for Tomorrow’s SMILES provide pro bono care to these promising at-risk teens, renewing their self-esteem and encouraging them to take responsibility for their own oral health. Participating dentists receive access to generously donated products through Invisalign and Nobel Biocare (including Procera), and NCOHF reimburses for nondonated services (i.e., nurse anesthetist or anesthesiology fees, etc.) on a case-by-case basis.In return for receiving life-changing care through Tomorrow’s SMILES, patients are required to share important oral health educational lessons with younger children through Pay-It-Forward, the youth-mentoring component of the program. Pay-It-Forward enables participating teens to serve as mentors and teachers to these children, encourage good oral health habits that will help them maintain beautiful, happy smiles throughout their lives, and help to break the cycle of pediatric dental disease in their own community. To learn more about Tomorrow’s SMILES, visit Email NCOHF Program Administrator Jennifer Drake at [email protected] to sign up and change a life today! For more information on this case, please contact Dr. Kara Henderson at [email protected].
Dr. Kara M. Henderson completed her undergraduate degree at Hampton University and continued on to receive her DDS degree from the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry. Before joining her father in practice, Dr. Henderson completed her General Practice Residency at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. In 2006, she completed additional cosmetic training at the Las Vegas Institute for Cosmetic Dentistry. Dr. Kara Henderson is married to Dr. Perry Jeffries, a pediatric dentist, and together are proud parents of two sons. Each year, both doctors continue with advanced education in clinical courses to keep their technical skills current with the latest technologies. They are active members of the North Carolina Dental Society and the American Dental Association. Dr. Lyman Henderson and Dr. Kara Henderson are products of the Warren County School system and grew up in Warrenton. They both enjoy spending time with family and have a passion for travel.