When Dr. Jay Grossman, '88, was a child, his family's summer tradition included inviting a Harlem-based youngster to spend a few weeks with them at their home on Long Island. The impetus for this tradition came from an affiliation between Dr. Grossman's local synagogue and a Harlem church, which the Grossmans and other Long Island families visited each year. "I used to introduce our summer guest as my cousin," says Dr. Grossman, "because I felt so close to him. I think that I trace my work with Homeless Not Toothless to those summers, which made me realize that we were so much alike, except that he didn't have the advantages that I had."
Homeless Not Toothless, which Dr. Grossman founded in 1992, is a not-for-profit program providing free dental care to the homeless and underserved, including the 28,000 children in foster care in Los Angeles.
The program's mission is to "raise the pride and dignity of the underserved through the provision of quality dental services." Currently, there are nearly three dozen private dental practices participating in the program, which has provided over $2 million in services since its inception. Most of the patients are referred by the Venice Family Clinic and local shelters, where their dental needs and the necessity for treatment in a private practice setting are assessed. The dentists and their staff who volunteer their time-including Dr. Grossman's newest associate, NYUCD alum, Melissa Glaze, Class of 2011-do so without any financial compensation. Moreover, the dentists either pay for laboratory expenses themselves or work with labs which donate their technical expertise as their way of contributing to the cause.
"When you're toothless," says Dr. Grossman, "what options do you have, even if you decide to try to get a job and find a home?" Indeed, in today's ultra-competitive job market, people with unattractive or missing teeth are at a distinct disadvantage. Four in 10 employers think good teeth are essential for employment. Moreover, people missing teeth fear going on job interviews because of how they will be judged. They are also victims of poor nutrition, and the pain of tooth decay leads some to use alcohol to soothe the pain and to develop the habit of keeping their mouth closed when speaking because of poor self-esteem. Once their teeth are restored, Dr. Grossman arranges for them to enter job placement programs.
"It all goes back to the old saying, ‘give a man a fish and you feed him for one day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for life.'"
In addition to the dentists and laboratories who donate their services, and to individuals and foundations that provide financial support, Dr. Grossman has received significant promotional support for Homeless Not Toothless, including an appearance on a local CNN affiliate and an endorsement and active support from the actress and philanthropist Sharon Stone. To learn more about the Homeless Not Toothless program, go to www.homelessnottoothless.org.