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    A Gift Worth Smiling About

    Untreated addiction strips many things from people, especially their smile. Don’t be fooled by short-term euphoria. Most days drip dark and lonely.

    The user’s drug of choice also depletes genuine teeth-baring grins. Substance use disorders often damage dental health, especially crystal methamphetamine which causes conditions often referred to as “meth mouth.”

    Even recovery can be tough on teeth. Patients who are prescribed what are generally helpful recovery medications like buprenorphine, commonly known as Suboxone, may deal with side effects such oral infections and tooth decay.

    No wonder Dr. Sharon Parsons lit up the room when her nonprofit recently donated 180 oral care kits to all the Suboxone patients currently cared for by Maryhaven, Central Ohio’s oldest addiction treatment and behavioral health provider. Dr. Parsons, owner and dentist at Dental Associates, is also past president of the Ohio Dental Association and founder of A Voice for Sean, the nonprofit organization that sponsored the kits.

    “Many of our clients lack the ability to buy even the most basic personal care products,” says Malik Malone, Vice President of Business Development for Maryhaven. “These types of thoughtful gifts mean so much.”

    Dr. Parsons advocates that compassion must trump judgment. “They need to know we care.”

    Dr. Parsons understands these issues at both a policy and personal level. She lost her oldest son, Sean, in 2015 to overdose. His addiction began when someone gave him just four pills to get through the aftermath of a dirt bike accident. The night he was moving back home to start a new phase in his recovery, he relapsed with fentanyl.

    Dr. Parsons has since become a staunch advocate to prevent addiction and to end the blame and shame that feeds stigma. She believes that information and collaboration save lives—and she started within her own profession.

    “As a delegate to our national, state and local professional organizations, I’ve encouraged practitioners to realize that they may know pharmacology, but they may still misunderstand addiction. We have to talk to each other. Thankfully, our national association enacted new policies and now dentists cannot prescribe large quantities of opioids for acute pain, which is wonderful.”

    She also pushed past her discomfort with public speaking and found a voice with impact, even appearing on “CBS Sunday Morning.”

    “I have spoken to community groups and dental societies all over the state, at an American Dental Association webinar, and at the American Association of Pediatric Dentists. I’m on a mission to try to stem the tide of people becoming addicted in the future. I point out that, in the past, we didn’t know any better. We didn’t need to write a script for pain. But that is what we were taught in dental school. I’m trying to let them know that there is a better way without throwing blame. When you know better, you do better.”

    Starting a nonprofit organization in her son’s name also has given her another platform to call for change. “A Voice for Sean is evolving,” she says. “It exists to champion the prevention of opioid addiction through education and advocacy. At first, I thought it would just cover expenses for speaking, but we’ve already been blessed with more than $18,000 in donations, so I’m seeing even greater potential.”

    Dr. Parsons’ courage, resilience and generosity give us all a reason to smile.