Curing cancer one brighter smile at a time

Editor's note: October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. The Daily Post is publishing stories relating to the fight against cancer as part of a "Read Pink" campaign that kicked off Oct. 1 with the pink Post - an edition printed on pink paper.

Eight years ago, Dr. Bruce Carter wanted to do his part in the fight against cancer. He knew of colleagues who provided dental work and instead of accepting a fee for services rendered from their patients, asked them to make a charitable contribution.

The scheme sounded plausible and he went to work. In 2001, he spread the word that he would whiten the teeth of anyone who would donate to the cause. About 150 patients took him up on the offer and the Lawrenceville dentist raised $28,000 - a huge success by any measure.

Carter felt that was just the beginning. The next year, he recruited two other dentists to do the same. The following year, more signed up. This year's version of the campaign began Oct. 1 and includes 61 general dentists plus some specialists. All are donating their time to raise funds to battle cancer.

The campaign took on the moniker Brighter Smiles for Brighter Futures and the tagline "Dentists Curing Cancer One Smile at a Time." Since its inception, Brighter Smiles has raised more than $730,000. If this year's goal is met, the campaign will add another $90,000 to the total.

In the early days, Brighter Smiles donated to Gwinnett County's Relay for Life - a fundraising event held by the American Cancer Society. Beginning in 2004, the dentists began working directly with the Gwinnett Medical Center Foundation, filling specific needs for equipment and upgrading facilities.

This year, Carter and his co-chair, Dr. Tina Heil, have their eyes set on a breast ultrasound machine that comes with the price tag of about $90,000. (At the suggested donation of $250, that equates to 360 people with whiter pearly whites.)

The co-chairs say, however, that if they surpass that goal, they want to add 3-D imaging capabilities to the equipment. That will take an additional $25,000.

Contributions to past campaigns have been used to upgrade mammography machines with digital technology at GMC ($257,000), upgrade GMC's Care-a-Van mobile mammography unit ($180,000) and purchase an ultrasound machine ($78,000) for the newly renovated Diagnostic Mammography Center at GMC-Duluth.

Ginger Powell, director of development for the foundation, knows how much the dentists' contributions have helped.

"We truly appreciate all of the time and effort that these 60 dentists dedicate to breast cancer projects each year. Without their support year after year, we could not expand and enhance our services so quickly. They are truly helping us reach many more women and save many more lives," Powell said.

If you're interested in Brighter Smiles, here's how it works:

Select a dentist from the list participants. You can find them at www.brightersmiles.org or call the GMC Foundation, 678-312-4634.

With a $250 donation plus a $50 fee to cover the cost of the teeth-whitening kit, the patient will be examined, if a candidate for bleaching, receive professional home tray bleaching materials and instructions that will lead to a brighter smile.

Carter says that between the doctor and assistants, patients receive more than an hour of donated time. The donation goes directly to the GMC Foundation.

Some dentists don't get the opportunity to do a lot of teeth whitening, so Brighter Smiles added a new option this year. Those doctors can apply the same fundraising technique to any dental procedure, from checkups to root canals.

So if you're interested in whiter teeth and a wider smile, go see a participating dentist today and join the fight against cancer. The campaign runs through Jan. 31.

J.K. Murphy is the publisher of the Gwinnett Daily Post. E-mail him at jk.murphy@gwinnettdailypost.com.