Making smiles, building HOPE


It's been five years since Smiles of HOPE's humble beginning in a mobile unit that was made available from Southeast Missouri State University. The accomplishments of the local dental ministry, which takes place on the last Saturday of each month at the Lighthouse Christian Center in Dexter, were celebrated at the center on Saturday, March 28.

Smiles of HOPE began in 2010 when local dentist, Dr. William Kane, was approached by Dr. Charles Baker to attend a meeting at the New Madrid County Health Center. It was at that meeting that Baker challenged a handful of dentists in the area to use their skills to better the lives of those who cannot afford proper dental care.
Kane accepted the challenge, treating patients one Saturday a month at the Lighthouse Center, sometimes seating them in straight-back chairs and lawn chairs. But word got out about the ministry, and things began to change. When the mobile bus unit that was used in the ministry was no longer available, Sunday School classrooms within the church were utilized. Equipment was donated from other dentists -- much of it state of the art technology. Volunteers came forward -- not only dentists, but registered dental hygienists and dental assistants.

Among the first to come onboard was Dr. Gary Riddle, a Dexter native who practices in Scott City, Mo. Riddle, who along with Kane, remains a vital part of the ministry.

Since the first clinic was conducted in 2010, Smiles of HOPE has treated nearly 2,000 patients. More than 6,000 teeth have been extracted, saving individuals without dental insurance an estimated two million dollars. Today, the clinic is a 10-chair, fully operational facility housed in the upstairs of the center.

Speaking to a host of volunteers and patients who arrived for treatment at the center on Saturday morning, Kane noted, "Little did I know five years ago what this would become. Dr. Baker challenged me to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. I think we're doing that."

Lighthouse Christian Center Pastor Tim Russell, who along with Kane and the church's dental minister, Kevin DeArman, head up the Smiles of HOPE effort, are quick to credit a "Higher Power" for the program's success.

"This is not our clinic," Russell confirmed Saturday. "It is God's clinic."

A fee of $20 covers the visit and one extraction, with a five dollar charge for each additional tooth pulled. The money goes to cover a portion of the expenses in running the mission such as the x-rays and a full breakfast for everyone entering the clinic. Patients from as far away as Kentucky, Illinois, and Arkansas have traveled to Dexter to take advantage of the service.

Russell, along with DeArman, Kane and Riddle, agree that the clinic would not be possible were it not for their staff of volunteers. Over 200 individuals, they say, provide their services to organize the monthly operation, which includes a full homemade breakfast served to all patients and their caregivers.

Eleven licensed dentists currently volunteer their services at Smiles of HOPE. The clinic is an extraction only dental ministry at this time, but the ministry has indicated an interest in someday expanding their to a full care dental clinic.

For additional information regarding the Smiles of HOPE dental clinic, call 573-624-2500.

Special thanks to Noreen Hyslop, managing editor of The Daily Statesman, for the article and photos.

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