Local dentists have begun a fundraiser for the Free to Smile Foundation. Founded in 2008, the Dublin, Ohio-based non-profit organization provides free surgical and dental care to children and adolescents in underdeveloped countries. Free to Smile's special emphasis is providing cleft palate and cleft lip surgeries to these children.
Jim Wilson is spearheading the local effort to help the charity.
"I found out about it from a group that I'm in. They put on a golf fundraiser for (Free to Smile) every fall," Wilson said.
PHOTOS BY MARYANN KROMER
Dentists (from left) Carl Shafer, Richard Fletcher, Jack Felton and Jim Wilson finalize plans for a benefit for Free to Smile, an Ohio foundation that provides free dental care and dental surgeries in four countries.
At a seminar in Dayton, Wilson first learned about the foundation and decided to sponsor a surgery. About three months later, the organization sent him a poster with a photo of the child he had helped. His staff suggested doing a collection at the office, but Wilson thought other local dentists would want to participate.
"We could certainly sponsor more kids that way than one office. It's good for the dental community to do this kind of thing," Wilson said.
Last week, Carl Shafer, Richard Fletcher and Jack Felton joined Wilson to hammer out the details. Other doctors participating are Jeff Shawberry, Joe Temple, Jeff Hoyda, Robert Dornauer, Robyn Vicek, Carl Yager, Robert Yager, Randy Niederkohr and Samantha Zaciewski.
About the group
Free to Smile was co-founded in 2008 by Byron Henry, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, and his wife, Stacy Henry, from Dublin, Ohio. Volunteer medical and dental personnel support seven trips per year focused in Guatamala, Cambodia, Niger and Tibet. The volunteers include surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, dentists, hygienists, assistants, translators, photographers and administrators. Each pays her own expenses.
The foundation works with organizations in each country to care for patients and monitor them after the team departs.
Free to Smile Foundation returns to their sites annually to provide comprehensive, quality care as well as to educate the local staff.
To learn more, visit www.freetosmile.org.
Each dentist has agreed to donate $275 to cover the cost of one surgery and then collect additional contributions from clients and staff. Anyone who gives $10 or more is to receive a red wristband indicating that person's support. The goal is to provide as many of these life-changing surgeries as possible.
"As far as cleft palate cases, I've only ever had one, years and years ago. It's something you just don't see around here," Shafer said.
Most Americans never have seen an uncorrected cleft lip or palate, which results when the upper lip or palate fails to close during pregnancy. In many poorer countries, due to lack of facilities, money or health-care access, these conditions go uncorrected even through adulthood. The condition makes it difficult for the patient to eat and speak. Children who cannot eat may become malnourished.
Deformities of the mouth may promote tooth decay and other infections. If the gap extends into the nasal cavity, it also can cause breathing difficulty.
Some cultures regard a cleft palate as a sign of evil or a contagious disease, so the person and his family are treated as outcasts. The patient may be denied education and employment, which contributes to poverty and despair.
Felton said he had seen cleft palate surgery done in Honduras while he was serving in the U.S. military.
"I saw how it changed some people's lives dramatically," he said.
"Generally, in the United States, they'll have a cleft team, like they have in Toledo, and there'll be a pediatric dentist on it, an orthodontist, an ENT, an oral/maxillofacial surgeon or a plastic surgeon," Wilson said.
The surgery takes about 90 minutes for a cleft lip and up to 120 minutes for a cleft palate.
The most recent FTS newsletter stated a dental mission to Tibet included five volunteers who helped 110 children. Thirty-seven Guatemalan patients had their clefts repaired by a team of 19 volunteers. In Cambodia, four volunteers helped 164 children with their dental needs.
FTS has an annual golf tournament, beer dinner and year-end Miles of Smiles Gala to raise money for the foundation, and 96 percent of donations are used for direct patient care.
"For the dollars you put in, you get so much more. It is such a bargain," Fletcher said.
"Everybody I talked to is real positive about it. Hopefully, we can sponsor quite a few of these things," Wilson said.