NEW PORT RICHEY — Rosemarie Glade had finally turned her life around. She was off drugs, she had a job, a home and was back with her young daughter — but she still didn't feel good about herself.
"I got sober, but I still had the rotten teeth," said Glade, 29, who now lives in Brooksville. "I started getting things back when I got sober, but I couldn't smile. It was just disgusting."
That's when Tom Lane stepped in to help, and SmileFaith Foundation was born.
The New Port Richey-based nonprofit organization he started last year gives free or discounted dental care, as well as spiritual counseling, to people who have struggled and turned their lives around. In addition to former drug addicts, the foundation helps people who have lost teeth due to abuse or from automobile or sports accidents. The service provides not just basic care, but also cosmetic work.
So far, it has given new smiles to 15 people and four more are in the works.
Lane owns Healthcare National Marketing in New Port Richey, selling dental insurance plans.
When Glade got sober and out of rehab, she had just taken a job with his company, standing on the side of U.S. 19 with a sign advertising "$5 co-pays.''
"Ironically enough I was the 'tooth fairy,' " she says now, laughing about her unofficial job title.
Even with the insurance plan that Lane gave her for free, the cost for her extensive dental care would still be several thousand dollars, and she simply couldn't afford it. So Lane applied for grant money, and then approached her dentist and asked for a further discount.
"Being in the dental insurance business I saw a lot of people who couldn't afford the insurance and dental work," Lane said. "People who had struggled through drug addiction, even though they had an inward change, they still had the outward appearance. That's how SmileFaith came about."
People can get free dental care elsewhere, Lane said, like through the Health Department, but generally you have to wait a long time and they only offer basic services like fillings and pulling teeth.
"You're hard-pressed to find someone to give you a full smile back," said Dr. Mike O'Connell, the program's executive director and a pastor. "SmileFaith goes the full mile and actually gives the person a full smile."
It's a community effort, and the program elicits help from local churches and dentists, even the patient's employer if necessary. "We like to get the whole community to share in the process," said O'Connell, who came on board full time a few months ago.
Lane had been a chaplain in the Navy and served as a full-time minister locally, most recently as the pastor for the snow birds at Holiday Travel Park.
He retired to put more time into SmileFaith.
SmileFaith contacted places like the Salvation Army Spouse Center, the Volunteer Way of New Port Richey, Pasco County Treatment Court, as well as local churches, including St. George Greek Orthodox Church and First United Methodist in New Port Richey.
"That's what we want to try to do, to get people to care about others out there," Lane said.
People in the community nominate others for SmileFaith's services, and you can't nominate yourself, he said. The money is paid directly to the dentist.
"It's been a tremendous thing," Lane said. "I've just been so impressed with how it affects people. They look you in the eye and don't mind grinning. It's amazing. There's a lot of them out there."
Jeanne Coulter, director of the Salvation Army Social Service program in Port Richey, met a man who had ended up in the emergency room for an abscessed tooth. He had collapsed from the pain and later came to her. She had just heard about SmileFaith and referred the man to the service.
"They took care of him right a way," Coulter said. "It's a blessing to have such an organization out there who can help these people who have no money who are walking around with abscesses for so long."
But the real result, she said, runs much deeper. "That outreach really turned this man's life around. He smiles, he has no pain in his mouth. He's just like a new person. It's a remarkable story."
Glade looks back at pictures of herself with her top lip covering her teeth because she was too embarrassed to smile. But things are different now. She smiles big, and proud. Now she's even helping others through the SmileFaith process. She can relate to where they've been. "It's so shameful," she said, "you're just so disgusted.
"It's so much different today. Even right after I had gotten the work done, I still didn't know how to smile. It took a while to adjust, that's just how deep those issues are."
Glade said she feels blessed to have come so far.
"I definitely believe it was God who got me where I am today."