The value of a smile: Showing gratitude for a record-setting year

What can a smile do? The simple act of smiling can open the door to friendship, start conversations, express love and joy — and so much more. But for many children with a cleft lip and palate, easily sharing a smile with others may seem far out of reach.

During this season of joy and giving, Smile Train, a nonprofit organization that partners with local health care professionals around the world to provide free surgery and other comprehensive cleft care to those in need, looks back with gratitude on a memorable year — and forward to their upcoming 25th anniversary.

The burden of clefts

Did you know that 540 babies are born each day with a cleft? A cleft is when a baby’s top lip and/or the roof of their mouth does not form properly during pregnancy. Cleft-affected children often have difficulty eating, breathing, hearing and speaking. Clefts can even lead to malnutrition and death. Children with clefts are regularly harassed and bullied for the way they look, often forcing them to drop out of school for their own safety.

But there is hope for these children. The largest cleft-focused organization in the world, Smile Train supports free surgery and comprehensive cleft care, including nutritional support, speech therapy, psychosocial counseling, dental services and more through their many global health care partners. Since 1999, Smile Train has supported more than 1.5 million free cleft surgeries in more than 90 countries.

Smile Train also partners with two of the biggest, most respected names in healthcare, Haleon, a global leader in consumer health, and Dentsply Sirona, the world’s largest manufacturer of dental supplies and technologies, as well as with like-minded non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Kids Operating Room and Lifebox, to exponentially increase their impact and capacity for innovation.

A record-setting year

In 2023, Smile Train challenged themselves to raise awareness about the power of a smile in a bold new way: by setting the GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ title for the world’s largest online album of smiling mouths. GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ gave them a number to beat — 20,000. Then Dentsply Sirona upped the stakes with a pledge to donate an additional $120,000 to Smile Train if they set the record.

With 21,271 unique smiles collected via their online campaign, Smile Train and Dentsply Sirona officially set the new GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ title on Oct. 6, 2023 — World Smile Day!

Celebrating a 25th anniversary by looking back

Smile Train is celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2024, by celebrating the many ways they’ve lit up the world with smiles. Over the past quarter century they have done this by:

  • Sponsoring more than 1.5 million free cleft surgeries for people of all ages since their founding in 1999
  • Partnering with local medical teams in more than 90 countries
  • Enabling essential, non-surgical cleft care treatments in more than 35 countries
  • Training more than 2,100 trained medical professionals, including surgeons, anesthesiologists, orthodontists and nutritionists around the world
  • Partnering with more than 1,100 medical centers worldwide
  • Providing 40,000+ training opportunities to health care workers in traditionally marginalized regions
  • Acquiring Simulare Medical, a leader in life-like 3D printed surgical simulators, in 2020

Smile Train has also empowered people with clefts in the U.S., the U.K. and around the world to join together, take pride in who they are, and raise voices for facial equality through organizing Cleft Community Advisory Councils, Cleft Con, a college scholarship program and other cleft-community-led initiatives.

In addition, the organization has put cleft care on the global health agenda at the United Nations (UN), the World Health Organization (WHO) and other multilateral institutions and lobbied for the cleft community’s needs at premiere global health and development conferences around the world.

Gratitude for every supporter

Smile Train could not perform their crucial work without the countless people and organizations who have contributed their time, resources and invaluable support over the past 24 years.

“We’re so grateful to our large community of donors, partners and ambassadors for another stellar year of providing children with clefts access to lifesaving health care,” said Susannah Schaefer, president and CEO of Smile Train. “We’re going into 2024 at full steam ahead because of the generosity of so many. We can only continue our transformative work thanks to the continued support of those around the world who care about putting smiles on the faces of children everywhere.”

Take advantage of year-end charitable giving opportunities by showing your support for Smile Train’s life-saving work. Visit SmileTrain.org to learn more and to donate today.

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