Santa Rosa orthodontist helps kids gain confidence, solve dental problems through nonprofit organization

  • Dr. Rael Bernstein of Bernstein Orthodontic, works on a patient at his Santa Rosa facility Thursday, January 24, 2013. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

Dr. Rael Bernstein's office is not your typical orthodontia practice.

Pop music throbs from the speakers, portable video games line one wall, parents help themselves at a latte machine and the whole place is decked out with enough animal print for a zoo.

Beyond the flamboyant decor, something else was unique on a recent day as rows of children patiently let staff work on the braces pulling their teeth into order.

For one of them, the family won't have to pay a thing.

"With this economy, it's not braces or a car, it's braces or food on the table for many families," Bernstein said.

Braces are a rite of passage and a parent's dread. Those crooked smiles, as cute as they are, can cost thousands to fix. That's not possible for many parents.

But since 2010, Bernstein has donated $84,000 worth of orthodontic treatments to 14 children through Smiles for a Lifetime, a national nonprofit founded in 2008 that helps children whose families can't afford braces.

He's also begged, bartered and convinced other dentists and specialists to donate more than $20,000 worth of dentistry, oral surgery and other care.

Bernstein said he's motivated because braces changed his life. He said that as a teen growing up in Johannesburg, he hated to smile because it would expose his gap-filled set of crooked teeth.

Braces "changed my personality," he said.

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