Trust turns tooth fairy to restore children's smiles

FAIR TRADE: Amber Shaw, 13, from Auckland’s North Shore,is having about $9000 of orthodontic work done in return for doing community work.
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FAIR TRADE: Amber Shaw, 13, from Auckland’s North Shore,is having about $9000 of orthodontic work done in return for doing community work.

Orthodontists are channelling the tooth fairy and giving away free braces to teens in need.

But there's a catch - they'll have to volunteer in their community in exchange for a beautiful straight smile.

From today, young people aged between 11 and 18 who cannot afford dental treatment can apply to the Wish for a Smile Trust to fix severe dental problems.

Two Wellington orthodontists are taking part in the scheme, in which 45 young people will start treatment nationwide in the next few months in exchange for 20 hours' voluntary work, trustee and Christchurch orthodontist Peter Fowler says.

"Patients may walk dogs, read to the blind, or help out at the local Salvation Army shelter."

Their families will also have to pay $10 a week for 80 weeks if they can afford to.

"Uncles, grandmas or whoever, just so there's some buy-in. To get a successful result you need the patient's commitment over that two-year period. It's not like going to the dentist to get a filling."

It took two years on average to treat someone, costing between $4000 and $7000 depending on where they were in the country and the severity of problems, Dr Fowler said.

More than 40 orthodontists had come on board for the scheme, including specialists in Palmerston North, Hawke's Bay, Whanganui and Gisborne.

They will receive a small amount of funding from the trust, but most of the work will be done pro bono.

Three young people from the North Shore had already started treatment under a pilot scheme, including Amber Shaw, 13, who has been gardening at her church for her volunteer work.

Not eating chewy lollies or drinking fizzy drinks was a fair tradeoff for ensuring she didn't lose her front teeth later in life, she said.

Earlier this year, orthodontist Karen Brook began treating Amber, whose eye teeth are lying horizontally and pushing on the roots of her upper front teeth.

Dr Brook said the treatment would take at least two years and cost about $9000 all up.

Amber's mum, Suzanne Law, paid for some procedures, but without the scheme she would not have been able to afford the braces.

"I think it's a great scheme to help out parents on low incomes . . . I am very grateful," she said.

Wellington orthodontist Matt Barker will be taking on patients, as he believes braces can change lives.

"We get some people who come in who won't talk in public, who won't smile in public and they put their hand over their mouth when they do talk and at the end of treatment there's a big difference."

Dr Fowler said the benefits of braces went beyond a pretty smile, as poor teeth and jaw structure had a "massive effect" on the physical and psychological development of children and teens.

"It's about form, function and improved dental hygiene.

"A great smile and improved self-esteem is often a very positive byproduct."

Contact Bronwyn Torrie
Health reporter
Twitter: @brontorrie

The Dominion Post