For women transitioning out of welfare, homelessness or incarceration and reentering the workforce, there are several factors that can lower their confidence. Their smile is a major one.
Dr. Mary Martin, board president of the Smiles for Success Foundation, was one of the founding women that launched a pilot program in 1995 that provided free oral care to women to help meet their health needs and boost their self-esteem. Since then, the organization has partnered with women enrolled in job readiness programs across over 30 states.
“We decided that they wanted to start a philanthropic arm to do something for women. Women who didn’t have a chance at getting jobs, or at life,” Martin said.
Now, the Smiles for Success board has set its sights on Pensacola and is planning to establish its first community clinic locally with a goal of serving about 300 women per year.
“We are going to have our own dental unit so that we can have the dentists come there and see the patient,” Martin said. “Hopefully within a year we’ll have that setup, because we’ve got the patients, we’ve got the programs. We had a couple of dentists volunteer, but they couldn’t see the patients in their place of work. So, we’re going to have to set up a dental operatory.”
Many different hardships lead women to the Smiles for Success program — issues such as tooth deterioration from drug abuse or untreated dental issues during homelessness — but by the time their after-treatment photo is taken, there is a brand new woman on the other side of the lens.
Homeless youth given platform:There are hundreds of homeless youth in the Pensacola area. This group is giving them a voice
Salvation Army gets new captains:More than red kettles: Salvation Army Pensacola’s new leaders seek to improve each day
“They stop covering their mouth … they almost always cry in the dental chair when you’re finished. Pretty much everybody cries in the office, and they stand up taller,” Martin said.
Pensacola resident Jon Dancy recently took on the role of executive director for the entire Smiles for Success Foundation, and Martin and Dancy have partnered to revitalize the program and relocate the organization’s headquarters to Pensacola.
Although the program started in the ’90s, it was rebranded around five years ago, leading the team to essentially rebuild the program from scratch.
Pensacola mayor raise:Pensacola City Council considers raising salary of next mayor
Pensacola mayor forum:Who will become the next mayor? News Journal to host public forum. Meet the candidates here
“It’s so overlooked, and few people know what impact dentistry can have on the community of people trying to get back into the workforce,” Dancy said.
Another change with the rebrand was a focus on community support and partnering with existing local programs.
“There was one missing part and that was community involvement and support with the individuals,” Dancy said. “We started launching, particularly right here in Pensacola, a program to bring in all the different resources within the community to help us. We’re wanting to work with different nonprofits and broadening our approach to have an impact on the community, and on the practitioner as well.”
Dancy said in Pensacola alone, there are 22 organizations that have expressed an interest in enrolling their clients in the program.
$100K donation:Davis family and Jewelers Trade Shop donate $100,000 to Baptist Health Care Foundation
Hospital storm upgrades vetoed:DeSantis vetoed $4 million in Gulf Breeze Hospital storm upgrades. What happens now?
“There are more people than we can help. There’s more interest, there are more programs that need our services,” Dancy added.
Once in full swing, the private practice program will recruit female dentists from the American Association of Women Dentists to work pro-bono at the Smiles for Success clinic. Historically, willing dentists would take on patients out of their own offices. However, Pensacola with be the first city to have its own practice for the dentists to use and will serve as a model for other cities that use the program, such as Boston, Austin and Denver.
The program will now require clients be a referred by a case worker testifying that the patient has completed, or is close to completing, a community-based workforce transition program.
Martin leaving local and national footprint
Martin has gained national recognition for the Smiles for Success Foundation after being named the 2022 Health Equity Hero by DentaQuest, a dental insurance provider. Her award also earned her a $5,000 donation to Smiles for Success.
DentaQuest representative Gonzalo Perez, manager of the DentaQuest case management and outreach program, said Martin’s ability to be a “disruptor” within the health care system was one of the reasons she merited the award.
“She had the vision and the clarity to create a program, Smiles for Success, to cater to a very specific population that has been historically underserved, maybe even left behind, by the healthcare system,” Perez said.
Perez said the area showed a significant need for more options for those unable to afford quality and continuous dental care, especially ones that accept government-assisted insurances, such as Medicaid.
“We know, and we understand, that the Panhandle area in general is an area that is lacking a robust network of dental providers, particularly those catering to individuals in the government space,” Perez said.
Martin said unlike other charitable dental programs that offer a one-time free cavity filling or a root canal, Smiles for Success dentists stick with the patient until the problems are resolved, regardless of how long it takes.
When a doctor receives a patient, the dentist’s treatment plan requires approval from three dentists on the board to provide accountability that the dentist is not taking any shortcuts.
The program not only provides a physical transformation for clients, but often a complete change in demeanor, helping them overcome fears and manage trauma.
“I think a lot of women, the dental chairs a very vulnerable situation when you lay them back. That’s a scary place to be … a lot of women who have been abused just will not see a male dentist,” Martin said.
Through her nomination as the 2022 Health Equity Hero, she said it has help bring exposure to the program and help more women in return.
“I was thrilled, and I was honored,” Martin said. “It thrilled me to know that I was going to get the opportunity to showcase Smiles for Success … I wanted to get the name out there. I’m always trying to tell people about it. It really makes me happy that DentaQuest — they are recognizing the importance of access to care and trying to get it out there to people. I mean, so many people are underserved and we’re just trying to help, and DentaQuest is helping also.”