Affordable, accessible dental care is hard to come by, leaving 3.5 billion people around the world suffering from an oral disease. Unspoken Smiles is working to change that reality with community dental clinics, fellowship programs, and education in schools. By providing access to routine care and educating people about how to protect their oral health, Unspoken Smiles is giving everyone the chance to share their smile proudly. Learn more about their amazing work here!
Can you tell me about how Unspoken Smiles got its start?
When I was a student at NYU dentistry school, I traveled to my home country of Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. It was amazing being around kids who were so excited about something as simple as a toothbrush after going through so much. I realized that what I wanted to do was get kids to smile around the world, and to share the stories behind those smiles. The goal is for affordable preventative dental care to be accessible to everyone, everywhere. When I first launched, people wanted to get involved who lived in different areas of the world. These individuals became representatives in their own countries and operated similar programs there. It would be hard for me as someone who doesn’t know the language and culture to do work like this in so many places– I need those local people to help me expand around the world.
Oral disease is overlooked as a major health issue, can you explain its pervasiveness?
Oral disease is 100% preventable if you have access to routine care. In a lot of areas of the world, people don’t have access to a dental clinic or can’t afford it. Oral disease is different depending on the country because diet, environment, and culture play a big role in the kind of problems that arise. For example, we found that there is a high rate of oral cancer in India because of the cultural practice of using chewing tobacco, but that is not the case in places like the Carribean. Our goal is to open community dental clinics where people can access routine care, and our first one is going to be in Costa Rica. We are also teaching kids about oral health in school so that they know how to take care of themselves and have the proper tools to prevent oral disease.
How do your programs help treat and prevent oral disease?
Our programs are based around dental clinics and education. We have a fellowship program that is designed to train local people to work in the dental clinic. The fellows, who are mostly women, work in the clinic and go to schools to teach kids about oral health. We have a “Zero Cavity Challenge”, where fellows go from school to school to do education and screenings. They treat existing cavities and teach kids how to prevent them, ultimately reaching that zero cavity goal. Our programs cover preventative health services, dental care, education, women’s empowerment, job training, and economic development. We aren’t reinventing the wheel; we use existing people and resources but repurpose them towards a prevention model that doesn’t currently exist in the dental world.
Do you have any plans to expand your reach?
Our pilot program is in Costa Rica because it’s a fairly stable, small country where we can have a big impact. We have approval from the country to open, we are now raising funds to secure a location. Once the dental clinic is up and running here, we want to replicate our model in different places, starting in the Americas and then expanding elsewhere. This isn’t just an international issue, and we have plans to bring our program to the United States, where there are many remote areas where dental care isn’t accessible. Going global allows us to learn more about the impact of oral disease in different countries. I like working in the places where other people don’t tend to go. It’s really fascinating to see that you get the same reaction when you bring a toothbrush to a kid in the Middle East as you do in Latin America, and I want to help them all.