Hometown Hero: Saving People’s Smiles providing dental care for those without
|Published: 12-26-2023 10:05 AM
Earle Simpson has a message for every patient who walks through the door of his dental practice: Take today and go forward.
For many, a trip to the dentist was a rarity before they visited Simpson’s practice, Saving People’s Smiles. Dental care is expensive and out of reach for many considering the cost. But as a nonprofit, his office treats many free of charge or at reduced rates, with a focus on providing dental care for veterans and people in active recovery, as well.
Saving People’s Smiles is a stark difference from the private practice Simpson ran for nearly four decades in Bedford. And he doesn’t hesitate to admit it’s hard work to make ends meet.
But in the small office off of Pleasant Street in Concord, he knows that providing dental care to those who would otherwise go without goes much further than filled cavities or root canals.
“People want oral health, but they can’t afford it. So what we do is help them find a dental home,” he said.
For some, that can mean relieving immediate pain. For others, it’s a full set of new teeth.
But Simpson’s message of start today and move forward means that getting in the door to his practice is the first step. From there, he outlines treatment options for his patients. All while encouraging patients to not worry about footing the bill.
Their last pro-bono case provided $35,000 worth of dental work for a veteran.
It’s a small operation with five full-time staff. In 2010, when Simpson opened the nonprofit, he sold his private practice to fund Saving People’s Smiles.
The idea stemmed from his 30th high school reunion at St. Paul’s School. Just further down the road on Pleasant Street, Simpson and his former classmates were challenged to give back to the community.
For Simpson, the suggestion held a deeper meaning. He has fond memories of his time at St. Paul’s, with a painting of Turkey Pond on the school’s campus that hangs in his practice waiting room. But he wasn’t one of the many students who transplanted into Concord for a four-year high school degree.
He was born and raised in Concord. Saving People’s Smiles now allows him to serve the community he’s called home for 63 years.
It also holds newfound personal meaning for his staff.
Five years ago Tammy Talbot, the practice manager, lost her younger brother Walter “Wally” Barbeau to a drug overdose. It’s one of many stories of families trying to make sense of the opioid epidemic and the lives it claims, she said.
Her brother graduated from college and had a stable job as a builder. But he began using drugs as an adult and died two months after his 40th birthday.
Now, Saving People’s Smiles has an initiative in his memory, aptly named “Wally’s War Against Addiction” – a dedicated focus on treating people who are in recovery.
Oral health is often a missing piece of substance abuse treatment, said Simpson.
“We could improve their self-esteem, their health. They would be less apt to use again, to self-medicate, if their smile was restored,” said Talbot. “Because they will want to protect it.”
This cause took their team to Washington, D.C., where Simpson, Talbot and staff met with U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster’s office to talk about the impact of the opioid crisis prior to the pandemic. With it, they hoped to receive federal funding to establish a pilot program to treat patients in partnership with recovery centers like NFI North.
Nothing ultimately came from the trip.
And in 2018, their work was also featured on a WMUR segment that shared the story of Scott Plante, who battled addiction for more than two decades before getting dental work done at Saving People’s Smiles.
The feature led to a tsunami of prospective patients. Behind the front desk in the practice, Talbot has a thick pink notebook, lined with names and phone numbers, some streaked by a highlighter. It’s a call log of prospective patients who have contacted Saving People’s Smiles for help.
And in a manila folder, printed emails track a similar story – with subject lines of “So much pain, no insurance” and “I hope you can help” – hundreds of patients asking for dental care.
This year, the state launched a program to provide comprehensive dental coverage to adults on Medicaid. Now, anything from teeth cleanings to oral surgeries is included.
After this program launched in April, Saving People’s Smiles saw 8,500 new patient requests within two weeks. They’re one of the providers in the Concord area that takes Medicaid, despite low reimbursement rates and lengthy wait times.
Simpson knows that demand from prospective patients will always supersede the practice’s capacity. But the mission of their organization is so deeply routed in staff, that every smile they do fix is a success.
“My staff are terrific. Everybody has compassion. They love it. We love what we do,” he said. “We don’t do it for the money, we do it to give back.”