TAMPA — When it comes to confidence the first step is often a bright, healthy, smile. However, for many out there flashing a smile can be a painful, embarrassing feeling, while seeing a dentist just isn’t affordable. That’s where the dentists at Mission Smiles step in.
When Dr. Ronak Parikh prepares for a patient inside the mobile dental clinic he realizes his work could be life changing.
Mission Smiles has helped more than 4,000 people in the Tampa Bay area regain their smiles.
“It’s kind of heartwarming seeing someone who has probably gone through the worst time in their life and then giving them that smile and then seeing how they use that smile,” said Parikh.
Mia is one of those to visit Mission Smiles during a time of need. She is a survivor of sex trafficking.
“It was a mixture of abuse, physical abuse, and also poor hygiene because of drug addiction,” said the 26-year-old.
She was able to escape the abuse, but every time she looked in the mirror it was a reminder.
“I was missing a lot of teeth, I had a lot of dental work that needed to be done,” said Mia. “A lot of things kept me out of the chair, I would say shame, embarrassment, fear.”
“They don’t want to even smile for the dentist they don’t want to show us their teeth because they are so afraid they are going to be judged,” said Parikh.
Mission Smiles understands before they can work on a patient’s teeth, they first need to work on gaining their trust.
“I know that I couldn’t truly shine through and be the person that I knew I could be until my experience with Mission Smiles,” said Mia.
The non-profit organization provides free dental work to anyone living under the poverty line and uninsured. Area dentists take turns volunteering their time and expertise at the mobile clinic.
“Those are the things that you really live for because changing someone’s life and impacting them for the better is one of the best things you can do,” said Parikh.
As for Mia, she loves showing off her new pearly whites, and has already used them to land a new career helping others as a prevention advocate.
“When I look in the mirror I see a brand new person, I don’t see that version of me that was, but I see this version of me today that is strong and confident,” said Mia.
For more information on Mission Smiles go to www.missiontampa.org.