Soroptimist International of Whitefish began its Smile of Hope in 2008 as a way to provide free dental care to low-income women.
Longtime Whitefish Soroptimist member Joanie Sorensen, a registered nurse, drew inspiration for the women’s dental program from Soroptimist International’s Women’s Opportunity awards that help provide further schooling for head-of-household women who have faced economic and personal hardships. Similar criteria are used for the dental program; it focuses on women who serve as the primary wage earners for their families.
Often, women struggling to put food on the table for their children put dental care low on the priority list. As a result, some women have rotting or missing teeth and that can put them at a disadvantage in advancing their careers or getting better-paying jobs.
Our motto for the program is “Changing Women’s Lives, One Smile at a Time.”
Education is an important part of the program, and each Smile of Hope patient receives a Sonicare toothbrush in addition to a cleaning, X-ray and plan for restoration and care.
When our club first began the program, the Daily Inter Lake newspaper based in Kalispell wrote a feature story about Smile of Hope, noting that Sorensen had seen the need for dental care firsthand through her volunteer work at a free clinic. She was quoted as saying: “We’d see teeth floating in a bed or pus, and all we could do is give them antibiotics and send them on their way.” Witnessing these women’s situations spurred Sorensen to establish a committee within our club and find dentists willing to discount and/or donate care.
The committee reviews applications from women who are referred to our club by area dentists.
We first began the program with a mother-daughter team of dentists in Whitefish, Mont., and now we have eight dentists in the area who provide care at a dramatically discounted rate. We have provided dental care to close to 20 women of all ages. Dental care is very expensive, so it limits the number of women we can assist. However, for these women there is no other outlet other than a local community clinic that does tooth extractions only.
These women have been so grateful for the dental care they’ve received. Our club is now working with the newspaper in Whitefish to do another feature story with dramatic before and after photographs of the women who have received care.
SI of Whitefish operates a Thrift Haus in Whitefish, which allows the club to invest in the community by donating money to local nonprofits. The Smile of Hope program is now the biggest project for our club and, we believe, one of the most needed and worthwhile.