For a teenager, few things are more important than the ability to smile with confidence.
But in a crippled economy, many financially strapped families have been forced to move their children’s orthodontic care way down the list of spending priorities.
Enter one Dr. J.J. Jasper.
The Fairview orthodontist came up with a solution for youngsters whose ability to express themselves outweighs family wealth. Earlier this year, Jasper presented an offer to local elementary and middle schools: complete orthodontic treatment – an approximately $6,000 value – in exchange for a compelling one-page essay on “How a healthy smile could change my life.”
Jasper leaves it to guidance counselors to inform students about the contest and judge the essays. Of the seven schools he’s approached, so far only Reynolds Middle School has taken him up on the contest offer. Jasper says he hopes the idea catches on.
“I’m here, but I’m not busy yet,” he says. “I’m more than willing to do it. It’s a win-win.”
Jasper says he and his wife moved from Santa Cruz, Calif., to Fairview last fall to be closer to family members. He started offering free treatment at his previous practice, where the California beach culture resulted in frequent mouth and teeth injuries.
“In Santa Cruz, people were always getting hit with surfboards.”
He chose Fairview Village to locate his practice because of its proximity to schools. As an orthodontic instructor in Denmark, Jasper was impressed that schools there were equipped with clinics that offered free dental and orthodontic care.
“I thought, ‘Wow, that was such a great idea. Why can’t I do it here?’ ” he says. “The closest I could come to being in the schools is being right next to the schools.”
Part of Jasper’s motivation, he says, comes from the fact that orthodontic care tends to fall under the radar when it comes to resources and assistance for financially struggling families.
“It’s a cool thing for disadvantaged children,” he says of his program. “There’s some real heartbreaking kinds of stories. People are discriminated against who look weird. It’s something that really impacts someone’s life.”
Despite a slower-than-expected response, Jasper says Shelby Edwards, the first student to win the contest, sets a strong precedent for the concept.
“He’s being raised by his great aunt,” Jasper said of Edwards, 12, a Reynolds Middle School seventh-grader who lives in Wood Village with Esta Simmons and a younger brother. “He’s a real happy kid. He has aspirations. He wants to get an education. I love to support that kind of a kid.”
Adam Swientek, a guidance counselor at Reynolds, chose Edwards’ essay as the best of the bunch and sent the student to Jasper in March.
Simmons says she was pleased – and relieved – when someone from the school called her about Edwards winning the contest.
“Financially, there was no possible way I could do it,” she says. “Shelby’s teeth were awful. They were so bucked. He’s reaching his teenage years. If something wasn’t done, it was going to be terrible. You know how cruel kids can be. Dr. Jasper is a godsend.”
Fortunately for the family, Jasper happens to be well known for his innovations in orthodontics and has delivered lectures and courses in 35 countries and 28 states. He designed the patented “Jasper Jumper” device to correct bites without the awkward, and sometimes dangerous, presence of traditional headgear.
“His technique is different than what I’ve seen before,” Simmons says, referring to what her daughter and other relatives have experienced. “I think (Jasper) is amazing.”
In addition to the essay contest, Jasper says he’s responded to the economy by lowering his standard fees by 20 percent – an idea he’d like to see others consider.
“If I went to (a grocery store) and they charged me 20 percent less,” for example, “maybe we could all make it through this (recession) together.”
Jasper admits he’s disappointed other schools haven’t responded to his essay contest offer, but he remains optimistic that interest will grow.
“It’s a way to give something back to the community,” he says. “It’s quite a gift to give someone.”
What: Fairview Orthodontics, a new practice offering free orthodontics to local students who win an essay contest
Where: 1547 N.E. Market Drive, Fairview Village
Practitioner: J.J. Jasper, DDS
Web site: http://www.fairvieworthodontics.com/