A holiday miracle to smile


TROY – Dana Brighton was too embarrassed to smile.

Her mouth of crooked, chipped, decayed and missing teeth is a road map of the hard miles traveled by the 41-year-old.

The lack of dental care in Brighton underlines the trauma she experienced: runaway teenage girl, battered woman, homeless person and heroin addict.

Today, thanks to the generosity of a socially conscious dentist, Brighton is the recipient of a little Christmas miracle. She receives a lot of dental care, worth about $ 25,000, free of charge.

“It’s a way of giving something back to the community,” said Dr Briana Byrnes, who has worked on women’s empowerment issues since college.

Byrnes recently spent three days in the Dominican Republic, donating his expertise on a mission trip for those without access to dental care.

“She cares deeply about those in need,” said her husband, Kellen Byrnes, 33, senior data scientist at Homes and Community Renewal, the state’s affordable housing agency.

Byrnes’ donation to Brighton will include extractions, bone grafts, dental implants, crowns and cosmetic dental care over several months.


On Friday afternoon, Byrnes took photos and measurements of Brighton’s mouth and let Brighton select from a glossy photo booklet the type of teeth and smile she wants.

“I feel blessed,” Brighton said, wiping away tears in Byrnes’ dental office. “This is something I have dreamed of for a long time.”

For as long as she can remember, her teeth have been a source of shame and a part of her appearance that she hid in plain sight.

“I catch myself before I smile or laugh,” she said. “They look bad and they are uncomfortable. They remind me that I didn’t take care of myself.

Byrnes contacted the YWCA of Troy and explained to them his idea of ​​donating dental care to a woman in need of the nonprofit organization. The Y helps more than 100 women and 50 children at 10 sites, including victims of domestic violence and those struggling with poverty, mental health and addictions.

“Dana has always had a spark of energy and never gives up in her efforts to achieve new goals,” said Starletta Smith, Executive Director of the YWCA Greater Capital Region. She was Brighton’s case manager when Brighton came to the Y six years ago struggling with homelessness and drug addiction.

After unsuccessful treatments and relapses, Brighton nearly died of a heroin overdose on January 2, 2019. She was resuscitated by Narcan, a drug used for the emergency treatment of opioid overdoses.

“I had fallen so low that I was praying for the medicine to take me out,” she recalls.

The near-death experience terrified her and caused her to recover.

Today Brighton holds a full-time position as a team leader at Maximus, which helps New Yorkers navigate the healthcare system. She has her own apartment, has stayed drug free, and is financially helping her son, Jaden, a freshman at SUNY Adirondack pursuing a business degree.

“The people at Y believed in me, they gave me confidence and that made all the difference,” said Brighton.

“We are very proud of Dana. It is one of our successes, ”said Smith.

Brighton and Byrnes have come together around a common goal of helping others and giving it back.

Byrnes, 29, grew up in Maplewood, NJ, and received her Doctor of Dentistry from Rutgers University in 2018. She completed a dental residency at Ellis Medicine in Schenectady. She practiced dentistry in Saratoga Springs before joining a dental office four months ago on Pawling Avenue. The practice was established in 1958 and purchased in 1984 by Dr. Jeffrey Adams.

Byrnes recently bought Adams’ practice, which sees part-time patients during the transition. Byrnes sees Adams as a mentor who encouraged her to volunteer and do pro bono dental work.

“I was looking for someone who was compassionate and caring, ready to treat the patient first. On a scale of 1 to 10, Dr Byrnes was a 12, ”said Adams, 66, who has been involved in a wide range of volunteer work in the community over the past four decades. “She is perfect for this practice.”

“I want to be part of this virtuous circle of helping others,” said Byrnes, who is black. About 3 percent of dentists in the country are black.

Byrnes grew up in a racially diverse neighborhood and in public schools. Her mother, who emigrated from Guyana, worked as a nurse and her father was a construction manager.

She described a childhood without racial discrimination, “happy and loving, like a long time of kumbaya”.

As an undergraduate student at Brandeis University, she was struck by the lack of racial diversity. She co-founded the Women of Color Alliance to focus on empowering women through community service.

Byrnes and her husband met while they both lived in New York City. He was working and she was finishing her dental studies. After graduating, they moved upstate to live near where he grew up in the capital region.

In college, Byrnes dabbled in sculpture and maybe she’ll be back. “It went well with dentistry,” she said. “I bring my artistic side to cosmetic dentistry. I consider dentistry both an art and a science.

After familiarizing herself with her own sobriety, Brighton began helping other women in the Y who were struggling with addiction and mental health issues.

“The best part of my life now is being able to help someone in need,” Brighton said.

Byrnes doesn’t just give Brighton a nice smile. She restores her dignity and gives a holiday gift that will pay dividends in the future.

“Dana is very goal oriented, but her teeth have always been a hindrance for her,” said Smith. “It will be a game changer.”

Paul Grondahl is director of the New York State Writers Institute and a former Times Union reporter. She can be reached at [email protected]

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