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Note: This is the first in a series of articles on this topic.
When you first meet Mark Shelton, he looks like your typical 20-year-old, if a bit shy. But Mark is different, in more ways than most people his age can understand.
A 2011 graduate of Chattahoochee High School in Alpharetta, Mark is, at heart, an artist. His passions include sketching and painting, and he’s been commissioned locally to paint wall murals. He’s currently in 3 different bands with a wide diversity of genres between them. Mark plays bass, guitar, and drums. He mixes the music himself, and will tell you without a moment’s hesitation that he intends to release an album and tour within the next 3 years. He’ll also tell you that his most immediate ambition is to attend Savannah College of Art and Design by 2014.
As Mark is talking, you might notice that he’s physically challenged. He has a prosthetic on his left leg, and his hands bear witness to the birth defects he’s lived with his whole life. He looks down at them as he talks, but he’s not focusing on his challenges – instead, he’s hiding what could be a charming smile.
At that point, you might wonder why such an impressive young man would speak so quietly and timidly when he has such a robust and life-affirming personality, and has obviously overcome a great deal to set his sights so high.
Mark will tell you he moved around a lot as a child, and that he has lived in over 9 states, something that makes him all that much more interesting… but that nomadic lifestyle is, on the surface, part of the reason he hides his smile. Because he was never in one place for very long, Mark never had regular dental care. His teeth are hopelessly decayed, many broken off at the gum line. Of course, this has affected not only his confidence, but also his nutrition and his ability to fulfill his dreams.

Mark’s condition is known as enamel hypoplasia, something that can be caused by a variety of factors, including illness, malnutrition, infection, or fever during tooth formation. Some medications and environmental factors can affect teeth as they develop, particularly if a person is exposed to toxic chemicals before age 3. But in many cases, including Mark’s, the exact cause of enamel hypoplasia cannot be determined.
When Mark’s grandfather, Jack Loudon, brought Mark into Jones Bridge Dental Care, they were looking for a dentist that would help restore Mark’s smile. His grandfather heard the hope in Mark’s voice as he described his ambition including a degree from SCAD, and a job in graphic arts, and he knew that Mark would never be able to confidently interview for a professional job without restoration of his smile.

The pair began researching and visiting local dentists. Some area dentists weren’t capable of taking on this work, others seemed like they wanted take advantage of his poor dental health. Finally, they came to Jones Bridge Dental Care, a practice that seemed different in every way. “Jones Bridge Dental Care made me feel comfortable right from the beginning,” Mark explains. “Everyone was so nice, and Dr. Leo really listened to us, where other dentists were just like, ‘Uh, huh, yeah, here’s the cost.’ ”
Dr. Leo Yelizarov, of Jones Bridge Dental Care, believes in contributing back to the community on a regular basis – this July will mark his practice’s 5th Annual Free Dentistry Day, a day in which they provide dental services at no cost to members of the Alpharetta, Johns Creek, Duluth, and Cumming communities who would otherwise not be able to afford them. The practice also supports local charities and fundraising efforts throughout the year, particularly the causes that are close to their patient’s hearts.
After hearing Mark’s story, and evaluating his needs, Dr. Leo quickly saw that the work Mark needed was far more extensive than most people could afford. The Jones Bridge Dental Care team, which includes Dr. Leo Yelizarov, Dr. Panida Nasseh, and Dr. Faig Malikov, decided to take on the challenge of Mark’s case at no cost to the family. “First, we needed to restore normal function, even before we talked aesthetics,” explained Dr. Leo. The complex and difficult work would have to take place over a series of appointments, in several phases, that would include root canals, extractions, partial dentures and implants.
First, the dental hygienists at Jones Bridge Dental Care provided Mark with several dental cleanings, to help rid him of existing gum disease. Then, in early February of 2013, the work to restore Mark’s oral health and improve his overall quality of life began with Phase One of the Jones Bridge Dental Care team’s plan. This phase included 5-6 office visits that would provide Mark with 8-10 root canals and 10-12 crowns.
Dr. Leo’s first goal was to return Mark’s smile and confidence to him, so the first stage focused on his most visible front teeth. To restore those teeth broken to the gum line, as well as some that had rotted or had extensive decay, Dr. Malikov completed 3 root canals and the installed 4 temporary crowns. “I’m hopeful that this first part of the treatment will diminish the pain Mark has, and restore some of his normal functioning. I know that by focusing on the front teeth, he will leave here with an immediate difference in how he feels about himself,” said Dr. Malikov.
To complete Phase One, in Mark’s next appointment at Jones Bridge Dental Care, the team will perform 3 to 4 additional root canals. Within 4-6 weeks after the end of Phase One, Dr. Leo will begin Phase Two, including surgery to remove the remainder of the non-viable teeth and hopefully provide Mark with multiple permanent implants.
Normally this work would cost a patient $50,000- $70,000. (A single implant can cost anywhere from $3500-$5000, depending on the location and work that needs to be done.) Dr. Leo and his team were inspired by Mark, his story, and his ambition, and chose to donate their time, lab costs, and materials to help change Mark’s life.
“This will have an incredible impact on his future,” explained Dr. Leo. “Mark will again have functional chewing ability – this will improve his diet and nutrition and overall quality of life. Beyond that, his confidence will increase, knowing that his smile is one of his best physical features.”
Look for Part Two of Mark’s story in late March.