Father-son orthodontists help bring braces to all

November 3, 2009 

Dr. A.G. “Skeet” Burris, left, poses with his son, Dr. Benjamin Burris, who created the national Smile for a Lifetime Foundation. Skeet Burris recently established a local chapter of the foundation.

SPECIAL TO THE GAZETTE AND PACKET

  • Residents of Beaufort, Jasper and Hampton counties are eligible for Smile for a Lifetime. Applications can be picked up at all eight Beaufort, Jasper and Hampton Comprehensive Health sites, each county's health department, the Hampton County Guardian office and Allendale Smiles. Deadline for the first round is Thursday. Applications are accepted year round. The next deadline is Feb. 1.

Inspired by his father, Dr. Benjamin Burris became an orthodontist. In return, Dr. A.G. "Skeet" Burris is carrying on his son's legacy.

The elder Burris helped start the local chapter of the Smile for a Lifetime Foundation, which gives braces to residents who can't afford them otherwise. The younger Burris started the foundation last year in Jonesboro, Ark., and it has quickly spread nationwide. The Lowcountry chapter's first round of recipients will soon be decided.

The foundation targets those who would not have considered getting braces because of the hefty price tag.

"As my son says, 'Some see their chances of going to the orthodontist as the same as going to the moon,'<2009>" Burris said.

Applicants for the Smile for a Lifetime are reviewed by a board of directors, who will then pass on the potential recipients for a final evaluation by Burris. The local chapter plans on giving out six scholarships in its first year, Burris said.

The foundais similar to a scholarship program, Burris said. Like a scholarship recipient has to maintain a certain grade point average, the Smile for a Lifetime recipient must maintain proper care of his or her teeth and braces to keep receiving the work.

"We're looking for a young person who is motivated but who just doesn't have the finances," said Skeet Burris' wife, Gail, who helps organize the local chapter.

The elder Burris' practice has been in the Beaufort area for about 30 years. The former Navy dentist at Parris Island went away to orthodontics school then returned, despite the misgivings of his peers who said the sleepy town wouldn't have enough patients. But the Lowcountry charmed Burris.

The younger Burris grew up in Beaufort then went to The Citadel for a degree in marine biology. After spending a year New Zealand following graduation, he decided to take a different career path -- orthodontics. He earned his degree from University of Tennessee in Memphis and settled just across the state line in Jonesboro.

He started his practice in 2004, occasionally providing free work to patients who couldn't afford it. It isn't unusual for an orthodontist to give braces pro bono, but Ben Burris said his work was usually based on patients who were coming to him. He wanted to make it a more formalized process, reaching out to people who may not even consider getting braces an option.

He established Smile for a Lifetime in northeast Arkansas last year. On the encouragement of friends and family, he took it national. Now with a board of directors and executive director, the foundation has chapters in 25 states.

"Watching it grow has been amazing," Ben Burris said.

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