Save-A-Smile helps people take a bite out of life

GREENVILLE—For most people, breaking into a smile when they’re happy is second nature.

For Pepper Humphrey, it is a precious gift. The Taylors resident said she avoided smiling for years because she had bad teeth.

“I wouldn’t talk that openly, I would sit there covering my mouth,” she recalled.

Then, in 2011, her life changed dramatically because of a new set of dentures she received through Save-A-Smile, a program run by Catholic Charities that provides dental work for low-income adults.

“It was an answer to a prayer,” Humphrey said. “I was out of work, and getting dentures allowed me to be able to get another job. I was able to communicate with people professionally and socially. Now I don’t mind smiling and I don’t mind talking with people.”

Humphrey, who works part-time as a bookkeeper, is one of more than 700 people around the Upstate who have received new dentures through Save-A-Smile in the past three years.

The program recently received a welcome boost from a $60,000 grant awarded to Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Charleston by Greenville Women Giving, a philanthropic group centered on the idea that women can make a real difference in the community.

That money will help about 150 people who desperately need dental work but otherwise couldn’t afford it, said Karl Rogozenski, senior care and development coordinator for Catholic Charities in the Piedmont Deanery.

Rogozenski works closely with Save-A-Smile and sees the results on a daily basis. Many clients are able to land jobs because their appearance and self-esteem improves, and they can be more successful at job interviews, he said.

A full set of teeth also has health benefits, because people are able to eat more foods without difficulty. Rogozenski recalls one woman who was overjoyed because she was finally able to eat an ear of corn again.

“We take pictures before and after, and it’s an incredible transformation,” he said. “We have a bulletin board full of smiles on the wall. You can see the real change in people.”

Candidates for new dentures first attend an oral hygiene workshop given by the dental college at Greenville Technical College, and then complete an interview and application. Once they are approved, recipients receive a voucher to have their dentures made at a local clinic.

Rogozenski said many people who benefit from the program have been struggling with poor dental health for years. Save-A-Smile has served people in their 30s on up.

“It is an unending need because Medicare and other programs don’t help with things like dentures,” he said. “We’ve helped hundreds but we also have close to 400 people on the waiting list.”

Humphrey spent three years on the list before getting her dentures and said the day she received them was an answer to a prayer.

“They have given me confidence and a sense of self-worth,” she said. “I want to show people here I am. See how God has worked in my life!”

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