Raymond Orji always wears a grim face. He hardly smiles or laughs even when there is cause for him to do so.
Not that he is a sadist or an unhappy man. Within him, he is always happy and could smile or laugh when alone. But to smile or laugh in the public is something he considers outlandish. This is because he has dental flaws which have become a source of stigmatisation for him.
Realising the precarious situation people with dental flaws find themselves, experts are encouraging those who find it difficult to smile to do so because of its immense benefits. They maintain that smiling engenders some health benefits.
Dentists say smiling has well-documented social benefits. A genuine smile can make you look more likeable, attractive, intelligent and even trustworthy.”
Apart from the above, “smiling can boost one’s mood when one is feeling blue and may be beneficial for people struggling with anxiety and depression”.
According to them, smile also lowers blood pressure, relieves stress, enhances better relationships, improves stronger immune function, relieves pain and increases one’s life span.
Inability to smile can hold one back. One can be shut down from being open to the world because of not being able to face the world, socialise, get married or get the dream wife/husband as a result of one’s dentition.
It could as well hold one back from having that dream job just because of the flaws of one’s dentition.
However, hope appears on the horizon as Project Smile is transforming lives affected by dental flaws; ranging from overcrowded, protruding and discoloured teeth to far more complex cases by giving them great smiles.
The organisation has so far provided succour for four of such deserving individuals; a chance in a lifetime to correct this shortcoming and have a perfect dentition. Some of those who have benefited from the gesture included Henry Ijeoma, Tomilola Bada, Sesan Dales and Opeyemi Fasuyi.
Penultimate Tuesday, some celebrities teamed up with dentists, consultant orthodontists and other professionals to put smiles on faces of some under-privileged Nigerians with flawed dentition who could not afford a smile makeover.
Project Smile is a complimentary smile makeover initiative founded by Smile 360 Chief Executive Office, Dr. Amy Traore-Shumbusho, for Nigerian youths who have suffered lost opportunities and stigmatised due to cases of flawed dentition.
Project Smile, since being in existence eight years ago, has also provided sucour to about 24 young men and women spread across the country.
Dr. Traore-Shumbusho, who is also the Clinical Director and Initiator, Project Smile360, said over 226 young adults had entered for being considered.
“We really hoped we could take on everybody, but we cannot at this time do it alone. We look for Project Smile through people who could help the course so that we can help more people.
“Of course, we can do better, and our aim is to do at least 20 smiles transformation every year. Today, we are closing the last edition for this year and we have one lucky individual that wil l leave with a smile transformation of his/her life,” she said.
Traore-Shumbusho, appealed to governments at all levels, corporate organisations and public-spirited individuals to support the cause by providing the health needs of the people through donations and partnership so that the organisation could give more to the society.
She said her mission is to give opportunities to her patients to smile again, and give them healthy fitting.
“I realised that my patients are happy after they are empowered and I see the transformation within and outside them and the opportunities that those new smiles and beautiful teeth would make in their lives.
“I know there are people out there that do not have the opportunity or have the means. We know that dentistry is expensive and the reason for that expensiveness is the high cost of equipment and the technology involved,” she said.
She admitted that “not everybody could afford to set up a dental office, even as she disclosed that not everybody could afford to pay the dentist’s fee. “We know that there are people who will be affected by the flaws of their dentition and may not be able to cross the door of our practice. And I thought that these individuals deserve a life-changing experience by changing their smiles,” she said.
Stressing the importance of dentists to people’s lives and the importance of giving a smile and changing people’s lives, Traore-Shumbusho said dental health ranks high in keeping people healthy as it has a direct impact on cardiovascular health.
She noted that most people do not pay the necessary attention to their dental health, hence they end up developing dental issues.
According to her, a regular dental check-up is required to keep the teeth in a healthy state, which will enable one to put up a nice smile on the face.
“For a healthy smile, you must practice good oral hygiene every day. Brushing after meals, using anti-microbial mouthwash, and flossing at least, once per day helps to keep these disease-causing bacteria from reproducing in your mouth, and causing tooth decay.
“We are looking for opportunities to continue the project, make more people know about the project and have support of more people who have the goodwill to be able to do much more. The most important thing is we do not want the project to go down.
“Again, we want to create more awareness so that people will know the connection between oral health and smile. But there’s a bigger message behind this. It’s the fact that we want people to know that they need to take care of their teeth and how important it is for them to visit a dentist.
“Visit your dentist at least twice a year because there is much more a dentist can do for you; a dentist can save a life.
“Our vision is to have at least 20 beneficiaries each year. This is possible if we are able to get partnerships and support from other organisations, prominent individuals who would be willing to adopt a smile,” she said.
Director, Project Smile Akinsanmi Apara, who is also a dentist, said “project smile was a social responsibility organisation that’s committed to giving back to the community through the provision of dental health care needs”.
He noted that dental treatment could be quite expensive, and not just in terms of finance, but in terms of time; hence the need to provide such service to the people.
“We are trying to communicate with the people that can’t have this done irrespective of their socio-economic backgrounds. The criteria to join the project smile is just for the beneficiary to tell why he/she needed a smile, what happened to him or her that encourages him or her to deserve a good smile to change his or her life.
“We do not discriminate as the gesture is open for everybody of all ages; although we prefer people who are older because they will understand the need for a change of smile.
“Project Smile Initiative selection is usually done once a year, each year we pick a set of winners and because dental treatment is usually a long process, the winners are kept under our care for about a year,” he added.
Continuing, he said: “Smile is dentistry, dentistry is smile. We are trying to explain why people should change their smile. You could have gotten married but there is something about your smile that it could not work out, this should not be.
“Apart from giving treatment to people, there are some forms of advocacy that goes with it whereby we try to propagate the gospel of good oral hygiene. These include making sure you keep your teeth clean, that you visit your dentist as much as you can, making sure that you try as much as you can to change your brush every three months and do a six-monthly cleaning and polishing of your teeth to keep them healthy.
“We tell them what to eat and what not to eat, when to brush, how to brush to ensure that everybody understands dentistry as not the pain department but the place where we prevent the pain from happening.”
Founder and Chief Executive, JSK Etiquette Consortium, Mrs. Janet Adetu, warned that it’s more important for young graduates to be mindful of their appearances.
She observed that a lot of graduates take their appearances for granted, wondering why most of them that finished from the university cannot get jobs. Appearance is crucial and it’s not about what you are wearing and many a times it’s not even about what you say.
“It’s eye contact and smile that we always preach about. Whenever you go for an interview, whenever you are meeting with people, in a gathering, whenever you are meeting for the first time, your smile will attract them to you. Smile is contagious.
“If I smile and one looks at me, one is compelled to smile back at me. Don’t take smile for granted. As simple as it appears to be, it’s one of the most powerful tools one can use to win favour. That’s why we say your confidence has to be your smile,” she added.
On funding, Smile 360 Chief Operating Officer, Uday Naik said the organisation has been the main sponsor of Project Smile with the help of like-minded friends and patients.
He believed that the moment there are more donors and sponsors, the organisation would expand its enrolment to accommodate people.
He solicited for financial help from philanthropists and organisations. “We appeal for more donors, sponsorships and partnership so that we can touch more lives,” he said.
Traore-Shumbusho said: “What we are sure of is that our beneficiaries don’t spend kobo. We have to enlighten the public on the services that we offer to beneficiaries of Project Smile. We want to ensure that Nigerians do travel out of the country for some of these treatments because some people leave the shores of the country not knowing that we can administer those treatments.”
Executive Director, ASG Solutions, Aaron Idonije, also stressed the need for oral hygiene. “Imagine a young man talks to you and his breath is stinking. It puts you off immediately. You don’t want to get close and talk to that person. Project Smile educates people on how to take care of themselves,” Idonije said.