Free smiles were given Saturday

Tribune Staff • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:39 PM

Hundreds of people waited outside the offices of the two locations for the Smiles from the Heart event in hopes of receiving the free dental help.

“I had X-rays, a teeth cleaning, and they filled two cavities for free," said Agron Nicaj, who is a resident of Macomb in the Detroit area. "So, no, I didn’t mind the wait."

About 225 patients were seen at the two locations for fillings, cleanings and extractions — estimated at more than $100,000 worth of dental work.

“The day was amazing," said Lisa Nelson, a team leader at Smile Grand Haven/Little Smiles. "Patients started lining up at 2 in the morning. ... They were all so thankful for the help and very gracious.”

Hot cocoa, coffee and doughnuts were brought out in the morning. Pizza and sandwiches where offered to those still waiting at lunch time.

After receiving the help they needed, patients were given a toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss.

“The community really came together to help," Nelson said. "We had over 60 volunteers for the event. I’d say about 80 percent of the patients were locals, but we also saw people from Northern Michigan, Indiana and Illinois."

Dr. Darren Riopelle began the Smiles from the Heart event four years ago. This year, he was joined by seven other area dentists: Dr. Daniel Bowen, Dr. Bill Gastone, Dr. John Leitner, Dr. Brad Masse, Dr. John Riopelle, Dr. Reynaldo Rivera and Dr. Dennis Thornley.

“We were touched and humbled by the patients we were able to serve, as well as the outpouring of support from the community for this event,” Nelson said.

Visit the “Smiles from the Heart” Facebook page for pictures, comments and information about last weekend's event.

— By Riley Thyfault, Tribune intern

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