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Bracing themselves for smiles

Smiles Change Lives and local dentist provide braces to those who couldn’t otherwise afford them

Posted: August 24, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 24, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Giana Cespedes, 12, has her braces checked by Dr. Kathleen Mulcahey during her visit.

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Teenagers normally enter the dentist office grumbling, but sisters Belicia and Giana Cespedes entered Valencia Children’s Dental Group one morning with bright, braces-filled smiles.

Belicia, 15, and Giana, 12, from Canyon Country, were recent recipients of Smiles Change Lives, a Kansas City-based nonprofit that provides braces to children who need them but whose families can’t afford them.

Belicia and Giana’s mother, Vicki, had been trying to find a way to pay for braces for three of her four daughters that really needed them.

About 20 percent of children in the U.S. have moderate to severe misalignment of teeth — most of them from low-income families that can’t afford braces to fix the issue, according to Smiles Change Lives. The Journal of Clinical Orthodontics reported that the median cost for children’s braces in 2011 was $5,200.

“I was just going to consultation after consultation, trying to find an option for the family — here, UCLA, anywhere,” Vicki said. “The girls were very patient but they wanted them.”

Eventually, Valencia Dental Group’s orthodontist, Kathleen Mulcahey, recommended that Vicki apply for Smiles Change Lives. Now, five months after the two home-schooled teenagers got their braces, they haven’t stopped smiling.

“We saw results really fast,” Belicia said after her checkup. “There’s definitely a change we can see that we like.”

Mulcahey said she learned of Smiles Change Lives at a conference and decided to become a provider for the program.

A child is typically referred to the program from a dentist, family member or friend. The family must send an initial application, including proof of need and character recommendations from friends and family of the child. If chosen to move forward, the nonprofit screens the child for their dental needs and ensures he or she is following a regular dental hygiene regimen before they are sent to the participating dentist. The child may have cavities or other issues that need to be taken care of before starting the braces process.

“They take care of the screening; all we do is the treatment,” Mulcahey said. “It just seemed like a win-win. Every patient that comes in through the program has stuck to their agreement.”

The application process took about three months for Belicia and Giana, and Vicki said she is still in the application process for her 13-year-old, Briana.

Valencia Children’s Dental Group has sponsored 10 children in two years, most recently Ethan Hubbard, an eighth grader at Arroyo Seco Junior High. The 13-year-old came to Mulcahey earlier this month for his braces after a year-long application process. The only fees the Hubbard family had to pay were a $30 application fee and a $600 administration fee, once approved.

“A lot of his friends have them,” said Katie, his mother, as she watched Ethan get his braces on. “It’s just a huge gift.”

More than 1,500 children have received braces through Smiles Change Lives since 1997 and more than 600 orthodontists participate in the program. But Mulcahey said she hoped more orthodontists in the SCV would consider joining the program to help the local children in need.

“It makes everybody feel good,” she said.

“The fact that there was a program to make braces affordable was a breath of fresh air and an answer to our prayers” Vicki Cespedes said, “Every time we come here, we’re just so thankful.”

For more information on Smiles Change Lives, visit


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