A roster of orthodontists across Canada are eagerly offering pro bono services for children whose families can't afford the expensive dental work, but they're missing one big thing: the kids themselves.
Smiles 4 Canada is meant for low income families, but just 16 have applied since the program started last year.
"We've had a little bit of a hard time getting the word out to the general public," said Stephen Roth, a Halifax orthodontist and a Smiles 4 Canada organizer.
By contrast, there's plenty of orthodontists willing to fix teeth at no charge. Eighty-five percent of the roughly 750 members of the Canadian Association of Orthodontists have volunteered to help.
The program was initially launched as a pilot project in Atlantic Canada last March, and was expanded in September to include British Columbia, the Prairie provinces and Ontario.
Mouth 'really hurt'
Blane Eisnor, a 12-year-old from Windsor, N.S., signed up for the program because his mouth "really hurt." There wasn't enough room to accommodate his adult teeth, he said, and that was putting pressure on his gums.
Eisnor's mother, Andrea Edwards, said her son was in so much pain, they had no choice but to get braces.
The family got an assessment, Edwards said, and realized they couldn't afford to cover the cost of the treatment themselves. "It just wasn't something that we could do," she said.
Edwards said she was grateful when their dentist recommended the Smiles 4 Canada program, which only requires families to pay between five and 10 per cent of the total cost of the treatment.
'Worth the wait'
She said the application — which requires a personal letter from the child, a reference letter from a friend, the family's financial information, and a submission by the child's dentist — took time to complete.
It took about two months for the paperwork to be processed, she said, and it was a bit stressful waiting to learn whether they had been accepted or not.
"It's worth the wait, it really is," Edwards said.
Eisnor said he's now living almost completely pain free and his mom said he's seen major changes in her son. "He just seems more happy with himself," Edwards said.