GREENVILLE—A Catholic Charities program that has brought smiles to hundreds of people is expanding this year, thanks in part to help from the United Way of Greenville.
For the past several years, Catholic Charities of the Piedmont has worked with Piedmont Dental Center to provide dentures to low-income patients in the area through the Save-A-Smile program.
Starting this fall, Greenville Technical College will join the effort by offering classes on proper dental hygiene to that same socio-economic group, and United Way is giving the program $25,000 this year.
“United Way fell in love with our program,” said Deacon Gabriel Cuervo, regional coordinator for the Catholic Charities Piedmont Office.
He said the dental hygiene classes will start in November and will work in tandem with the dentures program, which currently has a waiting list of over 350 people.
Some of the patients will still receive dentures, Deacon Cuervo said, while others, depending on need, will be directed toward education.
“The classes are aimed at prevention, so that those people won’t have to be put on the waiting list for dentures,” he said.
Deacon Cuervo said the program initially served patients on a first-come, first-serve rotation, but had to be adjusted in the wake of the tough economy.
Now, patients are served based on their need.
“If [a client is] the main source of income for another individual or family, then that person is served first,” he said. “If having dentures helps a person in a job interview, then we will help that person.”
Save-A-Smile began in 2004 and has helped more than 550 people. Patients are generally between the ages of 41-60.
Catholic Charities gathers potential patients, regardless of faith, through community relief agencies and occasionally receives requests through local churches.
“A parish learns about the program and a priest will call wanting to help a parishioner,” Deacon Cuervo said.
In those instances, the parish covers the fee for the dentures and Catholic Charities sets up an appointment with Piedmont Dental.
The center has worked with Save-A-Smile from its start, offering what would normally be a $1,000-plus procedure for $300.
The cost is covered by Catholic Charities, with no cost to the patient, Deacon Cuervo said.
JoAnn Roach, senior FDA office manager at Piedmont Dental, said her office offers both partial and complete dentures to Catholic Charities patients.
The dental office has its own lab, which allows it to prepare and fit the dentures in one visit. Having that capability helps keep the costs relatively low, Roach said, which in turn allows Catholic Charities to serve more clients.
One of those clients is Margaret Williams, a grandmother in her early 60s who is raising a teenage grandson following the death of his mother.
Williams said the Save-A-Smile program has been a blessing to her and her family. She said having dentures has boosted her self-image and confidence level to the point where she is a vocal advocate for issues involving the neighborhood where she lives.
“Getting dentures can have a tremendous effect on people — from the self-esteem issues to the health issues,” Deacon Cuervo said.