Indian American dentist Smita Borole, founder of Smiles For Hope in Knoxville, Tennessee, provided free dental services last year to a school bus driver who had been in an accident with an oncoming school bus.
The woman lost both of her legs in the horrific incident, and all of her teeth. “She could not work and was living on the streets,” Borole told India-West. “She wanted a desk job,” said the dentist, explaining that people with bad or missing teeth are usually discriminated against in employment.
Borole helped the woman through her program Smiles For Hope – smilesforhopetn.com – whose team of volunteers provide free dental services on the first Saturday of every month at the Volunteer Ministry Center in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The first time the woman came in, she was using a wheelchair, recalled Borole. When she came in for a follow-up visit, with all her teeth intact, she was using prosthetic legs.
“I could see the pain in her face as she tried to walk, but she was smiling. It was amazing,” she recalled to India-West.
In the two years since Borole founded Smiles For Hope, the organization has provided free dental care to 186 women, most of whom are victims of domestic abuse. “So many women have completely broken dentitions. Their teeth have been beaten out of them. They cannot eat, and they cannot smile.”
“It’s amazing how much we take for granted about our smile. Being able to smile, to show joy, brings back so much self-confidence,” said Borole. “We don’t realize how many people don’t smile because they can’t smile.”
The organization also treats women who are trying to get clean after drug abuse, and those who have emerged from the penal system. The women largely live at the YWCA in Knoxville and Tennessee Valley. They pay a small rent, and must test clean of drugs to be able to stay at the facility.
Smiles For Hope also provides its free services to women who have lost their teeth to cancer. The common thread is that they are attempting to be financially independent, and working towards getting a second chance at life.
“Black teeth and broken teeth affect self-esteem,” she told India-West, recalling a time when she went to the mall and saw one of her formerly-homeless clients working as a saleswoman in a shoe store. “It was such a big step up for her from a cafeteria worker,” said Borole, adding: “There are not a lot of people in customer service with bad teeth. There is definitely a bias.”
The work must be done within two sessions, said Borole, noting that her clients – who are fighting custody battles and trying to get jobs – do not have the luxury of coming for multiple visits. On the first visit, molds are made. On the second visit, any remaining teeth are removed, and the dentures are immediately inserted.
Smiles For Hope has provided $72,000 worth of free dental care thus far. Borole has contracted with DDS labs, which has provided thousands of dollars of free lab services to the non-profit organization. DDS has also provided free prostheses worth thousands of dollars.
Borole has applied for 501(c)3 status so that she can accept tax-deductible donations to expand her work. She hopes to open a free clinic in India at some point. In 2013, she provided free dental services to a girls’ school in Uttar Pradesh.
Borole’s daughter Ruchi also volunteers with the program, conducting interviews post-visit to see how the program has impacted the women. “I cannot be that person. I need to be detached from patients whose stories bring tears to my eyes,” Borole told India-West.
“I have traveled around the world but I have yet to find another culture that gives back to the community as much as the American culture. America and Americans always stand up to the call for help.”
“I believe my passion for giving comes from being a part of both of these places. India that introduced me to the needs of the less fortunate and America that gave me the courage and strength and ability to help those in need,” said Borole.