What if – by going to the dentist – you could easily help another person afford to go?

My non-profit dental practice, Sonrisas Dental Health, serving California’s San Mateo County does just that. We call it: “Get a Smile; Give a Smile.”

Pioneered by TOMS Shoes, this model is known as giving back – buy a pair of shoes and the company will provide a pair for free to someone less fortunate. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

How Get a Smile, Give a Smile works

Here’s how it works with Sonrisas Dental Health, which is a nonprofit dentistry: People with private insurance book a dental appointment at Sonrisas in San Mateo or Half Moon Bay. They’ll get great care from our professionals and pay the usual fee. Not more; not less. Already they’ve helped at least two people – themselves plus a child, veteran, senior or other community member who otherwise couldn’t afford paying the full fee. How are they helping someone else? We use part of each fee to defray the costs of care for someone in need.

As noted in Knowledge@Wharton, a business journal of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the idea has caught on. “Warby Parker sells and distributes eyeglasses; Roma Boots sells and gives away boots; Nouri Bar donates a meal for a hungry child for every nutritional bar it sells.” The online publication goes on to note, “KNO Clothing gives away clothes and donates to homeless shelters; Soapbox Soaps donates a month of water, a bar of soap, or a year of vitamins for each soap product it sells, and so on.”

While some call this socially responsible model giving back, we call it our mission. We believe everyone deserves good oral health care, a crucial aspect of overall health. As David Satcher, former Surgeon General of the United States, said, “We must recognize that oral health and general health are inseparable.’’

Thanks to donations from generous individuals, businesses, foundations and philanthropic groups, we’re able to provide dental care to thousands of people, including uninsured and underserved individuals at reduced cost. We serve people of all ages, including seniors as well as children and adults with special needs. We even have a truck that can drive to nursing homes, schools, corporations and other locations to set up mobile care onsite.

Like smiling, giving will actually make you feel good too! It’s been proven. Neuroscientists at the National Institutes of Health found that when people make charitable contributions, regions of the brain associated with pleasure and trust are activated, creating a warm glow inside.

The smile is good for the giver and the receiver. As writer William Arthur Ward said, “A warm smile is the universal language of kindness.” But you didn’t even need a study to know that.

Dr. Bonnie Jue is CEO and Dental Director of Sonrisas Dental Health, Inc., a non-profit center with locations in San Mateo and Half Moon Bay, California. Sonrisas means smiles. Call 650.727.3480.

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