FOR most of Shakare Thompson's life, a beautiful, confident smile had been only a dream.
The 14-year-old St Catherine girl suffers from Amelogenesis Imperfecta, a condition in which the dental enamel does not develop properly, hindering normal growth and promoting further disintegration over time.
"For years I've been carrying Shakare to the dentists, but no one was able to give us a proper diagnosis," said Shakare's mother, Deonne Powell-Thompson. "I was concerned about her features and how this would affect her confidence at such a young age; she was withdrawn, rarely smiled and growing up she was constantly teased at school.
"She also had pain and a lot of sensitivity to hot and cold foods. I knew we had to do something but we just couldn't afford it," she added.
Shakare's journey to a brighter smile began when her mother made contact with Kerlyn Brown, host of CVM TV's popular feature programme, Inspire Jamaica.
"I had been writing to business places asking for help with no luck and I wasn't getting much help from the health centres," said Powell-Thompson. "I wasn't sure what else to do so when I saw the programme and made contact with Kerlyn it was like a divine intervention."
Inspire Jamaica shared young Shakare's story and made an appeal for assistance and when volunteers from the Great Shape! Inc 1000 Smiles saw the feature, they reached out and offered to help.
Over the past five weeks, through a partnership with the Sandals Foundation, 1000 Smiles volunteers have operated free dental clinics in Hanover, Westmoreland, St Elizabeth, and St James.
"When we learned of Shakare's situation we were very moved and just had to do something," said Joseph Wright, executive director for Great Shape. "Afterall this is why we do what we do — having a life-changing impact on the lives of those who come to us. It's not just about a nice smile, it's about health and better opportunities further down the line," said Wright.
On Shakare's first visit to the Great Shape! clinic in Hanover, Dr Neal Hansen and Dr C R Anderegg did an initial assessment and diagnosed her condition. During that visit they also began the restoration process on her teeth.
Shakare's second visit was to the Great Shape! clinic in Black River, where Dr Harvey Arnce did impressions for crown fittings on her teeth.
"During Shakare's first visit we had actually made contact with Dr Arnce in the US, who was scheduled to be in Jamaica the following week, and asked him to bring along materials to do the impressions," said Wright. "After the impressions were done in Black River, Dr Arnce took them home to Arizona, purchased four crowns out of pocket and sent them halfway across the United States to Dr Ayaz Jafri."
When Shakare met with Dr Jafri last week at the Great Shape! clinic in Maroon Town, she was fitted with four brand new crowns and even had additional restorative work done.
"Dr Arnce actually told us that Shakare was only months away from losing her teeth altogether, so the help definitely came just in time," said Wright.
With a bright smile of her own, her mother said that eventually Shakare will learn to smile again and her life should be changed for the better.
"I got so emotional when I saw Shakare's teeth for the first time after the procedure. We're very thankful for the help from Great Shape! and the Sandals Foundation," she said. "I'm glad that we're still here on our journey and I hope the Sandals Foundation continues to support programmes like this that make a difference for so many persons."