ELKO – Can a smile change a life?
According to a local orthodontist and one of his patients, a confident smile can change the course of anyone's life and touch others in the process.
That's what happened when Dr. Brian Anderson, an orthodontist at Elko Dental Specialists, decided to start his own anti-bullying campaign and give a set of braces to a child in need.
"It's something I've been really interested in for a long time," said Anderson said. "There's way too much division in our culture and in our society."
After a few months of planning and reading through essays submitted to Anderson from the community, Michael Duncan, 11, was selected as the first child to start a treatment plan for braces free of charge.
"We had people submit stories of someone who had overcome bullying," Anderson explained. Duncan's teacher submitted his story, believing he could benefit from braces.
"My hope is that we can change Michael's life by doing this treatment for him and getting the community involved so that we can all have this sense of purpose," Anderson said.
As the campaign moves forward, one child each quarter will be selected for braces based on a story or essay describing their experience with bullying and overcoming it. In turn, the recipient will begin a treatment program along with becoming a representative of the program.
"We want them to become an anti-bullying ambassador," Anderson said, "to maintain top-of-the-mind awareness. We want this to be something we focus on and [to bring about] change."
Anderson's interest in orthodontics began at 15 years old when he was fitted for braces. From that experience, he said he saw his confidence increase and began considering a career in that field.
"I just remember how good I felt with my smile," Anderson recalled. "What a difference having my braces off made for me."
As an orthodontist, he has seen the inward and outward transformation in his patients when their treatment concludes.
"I know that we can change people's lives in providing a smile, especially for those that are self-conscious, have self-esteem issues, or is teased," Anderson said.
The anti-bullying campaign was something Anderson had been thinking about for several months, but local bullying issues and the death of a cousin by suicide a few years ago prompted Anderson to roll out his campaign in January before all of the details were finalized.
"It had been on my mind," Anderson said. "I don't have the details, but I just need to get the ball rolling. It's one step at a time."
After announcing it on Facebook, Anderson said the response was "overwhelming" from people offering to help and giving their support.
"If all we're doing is raising awareness and getting people to unify, come together and feel a little more connected, then I think that is hugely beneficial," Anderson said.
A smile, in particular, "says a lot about a person," said Krista Honea, treatment coordinator for orthodontics at Elko Dental Specialists. "If they're not smiling, you have to ask, 'Why are they not smiling? Is something deeper going on?'"
"So when a kid is getting teased about it, it's pretty traumatic," Honea continued. "It affects their self-esteem."
For Duncan, there was a noticeable change that began almost immediately when he returned to school after getting his braces, said his grandmother, Lori Hammond. In one instance, he told his classmates "he was tired of being bullied," she said.
"He's tickled to death, and he's a lot happier," Hammond said. "It's changed his personality a lot."
The idea that her grandson could receive braces free of charge stunned Hammond when she first learned about it.
"I was overwhelmed because I didn't think there was anyone who would do that," she said. "We were dumbfounded."
So far, the braces are doing their job, and Hammond has noticed the difference.
"His teeth have moved a lot since then," Hammond said. "I am] quite happy with the way everything is going."
The campaign also brought "an overall energy to the office" at Elko Dental Specialists, Honea added.
"It's like a butterfly effect, which brings a good vibe," she said.
As the program continues, the next step is to have t-shirts made that are worn on adjustment days by the patients receiving the free treatments, their family and the staff members at Elko Dental Specialists to carry on the child’s ambassador role.
“That is one of the things Dr. Anderson wants for sure to happen in this campaign,” Honea said, “that it has a lasting effect, and it’s also a way for the child to pay it forward, in a sense.”
For everyone who sees it, “a smile is very powerful,” said Anderson.
“A smile gives hope that things are going to be OK, that there are people out there who care,” he explained.
“I believe in the power of orthodontics,” Anderson said, “… it can be life-changing.”