Give a Smile, a charitable arm of the Australian Society of Orthodontists (ASO), has treated its 1000th patient. 16-year-old Samantha's family was unable to afford orthodontic treatment until the Give a Smile initiative came along. Samantha is one of 12 children.
"I was a little nervous about having braces put on but I can't wait to see my new smile and not have to cover my teeth," Samantha said.
"Patients accepted into the Give a Smile program are offered full orthodontic care for no fee," said Give a Smile founder, orthodontist Ted Crawford, "and it's very satisfying to reach such a significant milestone."
Founded in 2005, Give a Smile has assisted families by providing pro bono care for children who would have otherwise had to go without.
"We launched Give a Smile in 2005 and prior to that, it had been in the planning stages for a couple of years," Dr Crawford said. "At that stage, I was heading towards the presidency of the ASO and Give a Smile was designed as a relatively simple way members could give something back to the community. My wife actually came up with the idea of doing something special and Give a Smile allows members to make a difference based on their skills rather than just donating money.
"Once we thought about what to do, it was then a matter of how to actually do it. We had to set up an infrastructure around Australia that would allow us to find patients in need and geographically match them to participating orthodontists."
Give a Smile draws its patients from the public health system and since its foundation, it has provided almost $9 million worth of orthodontic care.
"We work with 'screeners' in the public health system who monitor the waiting lists to select appropriate candidates for treatment," Dr Crawford said. "We're essentially looking for patients with a sizeable malocclusion and who are both appropriate for and agree to be treated in private practice.
"Our screeners take the patients from the top of the public health waiting list, which effectively shortens the waiting list so that people rise to the top faster. At any one time, there may be 1000-2000 candidates for orthodontic treatment in the public system, so we are essentially treating around 10% of public orthodontic patients at any given point.
"Once selected, the patient is sent to the Give a Smile liaison person in each state, who is an orthodontist and ASO member, and they match the patient geographically to a participating orthodontist."
Dr Crawford said that each Give a Smile orthodontist agrees to treat at least one patient a year.
"We have 400 orthodontists in the ASO and 260 are participating in Give a Smile, which is something like 60%," he said. "That's impressive when you consider that some of our members work in the public system and cannot participate and hence the maximum we could ever have participating would be around 70%."
Dr Crawford said that most participants treat one patient a year with some completing a maximum of two cases. He has personally treated 7 patients since 2005.
"I treated Emma, the first Give a Smile patient and now several years on, Dr Kip Homewood has just commenced treating patient number 1000.
"I personally get a real buzz from being able to give back in such a profound way. You see a tremendous boost in the self-confidence of your patients and it leaves you feeling great every time."