Hope Smiles was founded in 2005 by Dr. Phillip Kemp. It started as a way to provide dental care to under-served communities in Middle Tennessee. Since then, the non-profit has expanded its operations to other parts of the United States, Haiti and Uganda.
Hope Smiles utilizes a combination of mobile and permanent clinics to provide dental care to those in need. People can also receive training and education in dental hygienics at these clinics.
A key component of Hope Smiles’ mission is a focus on a sustainable solution. This starts with creating a dental center in an area that previously did not have access to dental care. Local professionals and international specialists work together to provide a variety of dental care ranging from teeth cleanings to providing braces.
Hope Smiles provides local professionals with access to the most up-to-date literature on dental practices and technology. It also hosts educational seminars that are open to all dental professionals.
Hope Smiles has set up clinics in Uganda and Haiti. It also has mobile outreach sites throughout the US, Haiti and Uganda.
Currently, Hope Smiles Uganda has 14 mobile outreach sites that are maintained by a Hope Smiles Ambassador. These ambassadors receive training from the Hope Smiles team. A focus of this training is to teach communities the importance of preventative care. The ambassadors also get the community together when the outreach team of professionals come to visit. Visiting dentists can also partner with the mobile outreach sites to provide relief work.
“In Haiti, we’ve got a got a dental clinic in Port-au-Prince, and the clinic has been operational for several years,” said Jeff Atwood, the executive director of Hope Smiles. “We’ve seen about a couple hundred patients, between 150 to 200 patients, a day. We’ve got a very active orthodontics program, and we have the same thing in Uganda as well. The work in Haiti has gone on in the midst of all the challenges that country has faced. We’ve got a great team there that’s doing remarkable work. In the US we do a number of different things. For the last several years, we’ve partnered with Ascension health, which is the nation’s largest Catholic health system, to do a series of medical outreach events. Day-long medical outreach events. We will go to Texas or all around Tennessee or Wisconsin or Washington DC or wherever and set up on a Saturday with a team of volunteers and see 200 or 300 patients in a day.”
Dr. Ryan Shinska, who serves as the director of Uganda operations, has spent the last seven years in Uganda. When he arrived in 2013, there was no dentist in the village of Jinja, which is about two hours outside of Kampala. Now he works with a team of 28 people, and last year alone they helped 16,000 patients.
One person who stands out to Shinska is Henry, a 19 year old who had a growth about the size of a softball coming out of the side of his jaw. Henry had been kicked out of school, was in a lot of pain and had a putrid smell from the growth. The oral surgery required to diagnose and remove the growth was beyond what could be provided at the village clinic. Hopes Smiles was able to raise the money and coordinate to get Henry the complicated surgery in Kampala.
“What Henry needs is not just the surgery, but a team that cares for him, whose mission is going to transform his life,” Shinska said. “In any profession that we’re in, we can become transactional with our skills and transactional with our care, but with Hope Smiles we strive in our vision and mission to be transformational. That requires not just making sure that skills are received, but that he has the ability to access the care, then has the follow ups, understands how to take care of himself, then has the appropriate check ins at regular intervals. Unfortunately, those do not really exist here in Uganda. But Henry was able to get some surgery. He now has a metal plate to give him a normal jaw. He’ll be back in school when Covid eases up.
His life has been transformed because the dentist on our team had the courage and was empowered to be able to find a solution for him. Because a lot of times people would see him, they know that they can’t help so they say here’s the phone number, call the phone number. Henry is never gonna call that phone number, he needs an advocate. He needs a team of professionals who are going to look out for him. That’s what we’ve built here. What Hope Smiles has empowered us to do is to recognize that we’re developing leaders who sacrifice like Jesus sacrificed for us. We’re here to give the talents and the skills that we have for the good of others. That’s what we do here. That’s what we wanted. We’ve done for that for Henry, and that’s what we do every day.”
The next big project for Hope Smiles is the purchase and development of a new campus. This includes moving the Uganda dental center into a larger building and partnering with the Uganda Christian University dental program that is located in Kampala.
“First, we are closing in on purchasing our own land and building here,” Shinska said. “What that’s gonna allow us to do is certainly to increase our capacity. But the most exciting thing is it’s going to allow us to start a partnership with a dental school in Kampala, the dental school in Kampala called Uganda Christian University. We have a relationship with the dean there, and he’s learned a lot about our program. He wants his students to be able to be integrated into our programs. Not only to get the clinical experience or clinical model, both of the Dental Center and outreach, but most importantly to get the leadership piece of it that would become transformational. That’s really the most exciting thing is that this purchase of this land and this new building is going to allow us to have a first class partnership that’s going to change how dentistry is done in Uganda by developing and empowering Ugandan dentists who are talented, but just need the platform to be able to see transformation in the hearts and minds of patients in every corner of this country. Right now there are 43 million people in Uganda, and there’s about 120 dentists total for 43 million people. So that’s one piece of the future is finishing the purchase of this land and building a partnership with Christian University.”
Third Lens is helping Hope Smiles in this endeavor. Not only is the team providing plans for the new property, but they are also helping develop a template idea for future clinics.
“First, they are helping us develop a plan for the building and the property we are going to buy,” Atwood said. “Secondly, they’re helping us look at what would a template clinic look like? We’re developing the leaders, we’re going to raise the money, but then we have to figure out if we’re going to move into another city in Uganda, we have to have a clinic. So Brian O’Neil and the team at Third Lens are helping us think through what that clinic should look like. So when the opportunity permits, when another community is at the right time to move there, we have the ability to develop a clinic quickly and not have to begin from the ground up trying to figure out what that would look like.”
Right now the project is just in the preliminary planning phase, but Atwood and Shinska have a vision of what they hope the building will become.
“I’m picturing a place where we have a Dental Center that matches the building and the outfit matches the quality of the team that we have here at Hope Smiles,” Shinska said. “What I’m most excited about is the ability to connect and develop and teach the heart of the next generation of dental professionals through just these beautiful conference spaces. We have a wonderful climate here that permits just a beautiful, open air complex where we can speak into the hearts of the next generation of leaders. They’ll do it every day and talk about the values, the vision and the mission of our organization, and how we can transform lives if we just develop the spirit to do it, because the world is in need of it. We need leaders to step up to the plate, and I know they’re out there. They just have to be shown the way. That’s really what I see this building as, is just a beautiful open air space, lots of natural light, where we can fit freely and dream together. More important than dreaming, put the work in together to be able to transform lives all over Uganda, where otherwise it wouldn’t be.”