Student, family cherish gift of smile

Solomon Morrow is a budding comedian according to his aunt LaTresha McGowan. But a rare defect with his teeth made him too self-conscious to speak out in most social settings. All that changed about a month before school started.

Thanks to the Gift of a Smile program at Georgia School of Orthodontics, the 13-year-old now lets his light shine.

“It’s almost like night and day,” said McGowan, who raises Solomon and his brother Philip with her sister Rashuana McGowan. “He used to mumble and hide his mouth behind his hand. He smiles all the time now and actively participates in family events and seeks out new friends and new experiences.”

In its third year, the Gift of a Smile program is part of a promise the school made to provide $100,000 in complimentary orthodontic care to deserving children in metro Atlanta. Four students from Fulton and Gwinnett public schools received braces over the summer. They applied through GSO with letters explaining their need and circumstances.

GSO established the program in 2016 to celebrate the grand opening of its Atlanta clinic. The private medical school already had a location in Gwinnett County. Since its inception, the program has provided free orthodontic care to 13 children in the metro Atlanta area who need braces but cannot afford them.

As Solomon grew, LeTresha McGowan was told by his doctors that he would need expensive dental work. “We worked hard to provide what we could,” she said. “But even with insurance, braces aren’t cheap. And we were told he’ll need extensive treatment.”

The sisters took to Google and social media looking for ways to make sure their nephew had what he needed.

“I don’t know if it was luck or God’s intervention, but when heard about the GSO contest, we applied right away,” she said. “Those braces were something he desperately needed.”

Instead of fearing taunts for having braces, today’s teens are proud of their mouth gear. Solomon’s new braces were a gateway to making new friends.

“The first week of school he came home talking about kids I never heard of before,” said LaTresha McGowan. “I had tears of joy to see that he was coming out of his shell.”

The Snellville Middle School eighth-grader had begun to enjoy school a lot more.

“I raise my hand now,” he said. “And when I don’t know something I’m more likely to ask for help.”

Solomon isn’t alone in discovering that a great smile is a real confidence booster.

A study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information showed that 69% of adolescent orthodontic patients’ psychological well-being (self-esteem and general body image) improved significantly after receiving dental aesthetics.

“We received almost 200 compelling stories from school employees and parents of why their nominee deserved to receive complimentary orthodontic care,” said Chris Lazzara, a member of the board of trustees for the Georgia School of Orthodontics, the largest orthodontic residency program in the country. The school determines which of these people receive the complimentary care. GSO also provided free school supplies to the Fulton and Gwinnett public schools with the most nominations.

“Giving back to the community is an important part of GSO,” said Lazzara. “We hope that the example we set for the students compels them to make philanthropy a part of their practice when they graduate.”

A winning smile is a sign of success, he added. Almost everyone in the top of their profession presents straight, white teeth to the world.

“We’re leveling the playing field by offering that advantage to families who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it.”

GSO’s Gift of a Smile program by the numbers

650 nominations submitted over three years for four contests

13 children have received complimentary care

$42,900 donated in free care at GSO’s treatment price of $3,300, which is 40% less on average than private practice orthodontists

82 schools submitted nominations

$5,000 donated to schools

$600 to dental offices

Source: Georgia School of Orthodontics

2019 Gift of a Smile recipients


· Solomon Michael Morrow of Snellville

· De’ja Hart of Grayson

· Nicoli Alcantara of Sandy Springs

· Me’Tiez Thomas of Sandy Springs

Six schools received a total of $3000. The funds were donated to the schools who submitted the most nominations. Each received a $500 gift card to purchase school supplies.

· Creekland Middle School, Lawrenceville

· Duluth Middle School, Duluth

· McConnell Middle School, Loganville

· Woodland Elementary School, Sandy Springs

· Lake Forest Elementary School, Sandy Springs

· High Point Elementary School, Sandy Springs

Source: Georgia School of Orthodontics