One Kentucky dentist is givingÂ us all a reason to smile.
Dr. Edwin Smith, just named a CNN Hero, converted a tractor trailer into a mobile dentist office back in 2005. Since then, his nonprofit, Kids First Dental, has provided free dental care to more than 43,000 children across Appalachian Kentucky.
If any region were in need ofÂ a dental super hero, this is it.Â Appalachia has someÂ of the worst dental health issuesÂ in the country. And Kentucky has the third highest rate of tooth loss of any state.
Dr. Smith has met patients with a range of devastating dental problemsâfrom those who remove their own rotting teeth with pliers to others who'veÂ used super glue to reattach a lost tooth. But the most heartbreaking for Smith are the children that he sees in pain because of mouths full of rotten teeth.
Dr. Smith is trying to catch these problems early. Each week, he drives his mobile clinicÂ up windy Appalachian roads to visit schools and to provide free check-ups to kidsÂ in the poorest counties inÂ Kentucky.
In 2007, Dr. Smith told the New York Times âthe level of need is hard to believe until you see it up close.â
A native of Appalachia, Dr. Smith'sÂ passion for helping to elevate individuals through good dental hygiene has defined his career. That is why he also runs a free dental clinic at a high school in one of Kentucky's poorest counties. In addition, heÂ provides free care to nearlyÂ half of the patients who visit his private practice in Barbourville.
Dr. Smith told CNN what this work means to him.
"I felt like I had a calling to do this. It was just something that was laid out in front of me that needed to be done, and no one else was doing it. Just seeing that we're still making a difference keeps me going. When I see kids at schools we've been providing treatment to for 10 years and how much the incidence of tooth decay in the kids there has been reduced, that's motivation enough. I've had people get up out of their chair, look in the mirror, and cry. People who, before, wouldn't even let you see their teeth, and now they've got these big, wide smiles. That's one of the most rewarding things."