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Detroit Lions and TeamSmile make a difference in Detroit

Current Detroit Lions starting linebacker Tahir Whitehead (59) and Nate Ness (47) help some children with oral hygiene instruction.

Recently, a team of three dental students, including myself, partnered with TeamSmile to provide dental care to the children of William Loving Elementary School in Detroit. TeamSmile, a mobile dental clinic, is unique in that it collaborates with professional sports teams across the nation to bring awareness and dental care to underserved populations.

I was blessed to have played professional football for the Indianapolis Colts under the likes of Peyton Manning and current Detroit Lions Head Coach Jim Caldwell. Utilizing these connections, I reached out to my former coach to propose the potential partnership. A magnanimous man in nature, Coach Caldwell quickly accepted. After months of planning and fine tuning, the event was executed flawlessly this past November at Loving Elementary’s gymnasium. The Lions brought along Coach Caldwell, four current players, and Roary, the team’s mascot. The program provided 211 sealants, 145 fillings, 34 extractions, four crowns and two pulpotomies to 192 children. This equates to about $649 worth of treatment per child. Needless to say, this was one of the most satisfying endeavors that I have been a part of.

One of the truly unique differences in our TeamSmile event was that it was initiated entirely by dental students. My fellow colleague and third year dental student, Remy Ajluni, had read about the New Orleans Saints’ successful partnership with TeamSmile. Remy immediately began investigating the possibility of bringing TeamSmile to Detroit. There were many deadends and setbacks associated with our efforts. Some of these included convincing faculty to allow the school to participate, persuading officials to rearrange clinic schedules for the students who agreed to volunteer, findings times to schedule conference calls between all involved parties, and securing funding for the program.  Despite these obstacles, we “teamed” up and pushed for TeamSmile with determination. In all, the planning went on for several months. Ultimately, we’d like to make TeamSmile an annual event in Detroit. In subsequent years, the event will take place downtown at Ford Field, one of the faces of the city of Detroit.

We were extremely fortunate to work with Kellie Reneau, the program’s director. Having concluded the 2014 calendar year with more than 30 programs across the country, Kellie has TeamSmile firing on all cylinders. Whenever we experienced resistance, Kellie was the glue that kept our team together. In terms of advertising, the University of Detroit was in charge of the press release for the event. Additionally, other local media outlets were contacted to publicize the event. Having the Lions participate, the premise of the program, was substantial as well. Their popularity allowed the influence of the program to reach much farther than we had anticipated.

I encourage anyone who may have aspirations of serving their local communities to pursue TeamSmile. Without a doubt one of the most enlightening and rewarding experiences in my life, TeamSmile was an effort of an entire community. We are looking forward to next year’s event. For more general information on TeamSmile you can visit Go Lions!


TeamSmile Detroit student co-directors from left: Remy Ajluni, Joe Vanfleteren, Mr. Tooth, and Blair White.
Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell (middle) with Detroit Lions team dentist Dr. CJ Regula (right) and third year dental student and former Indianapolis Colt Blair White (left).
Dental student Zehra Zaid volunteers at the OHI station.
Third year dental students (from left) Remy Ajluni, Jake Szymanski, and Rob Guanci with Detroit Lions mascot Roary at the Radiograph station.


~Blair White, Detroit Mercy, ’16

Blair White

Blair is a 27 year old male from the mid-Michigan area and currently attending the University of Detroit Mercy as a third year dental student. His undergraduate studies were completed at Michigan State University, where he also played football. Majoring in human biology, he knew dentistry was my plan from early on in high school. For a couple years after college, Blair played ball for the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL. Due to numerous back issues, he retired and immediately entered dental school. Athletics are a big part of his life. Blair has been fortunate to have some incredible coaches and teammates who have positively influenced him. His wife Karlie and he were married in 2012 and we currently have a 9 month old, Blake. They both come from large families and greatly value the time we spend with them.

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  1. He left football to become a dentist after suffering back issues??? I don’t think a 25-30 year career in dentistry is going to do anything but exacerbate your issues (and probably add a few more to the list).

  2. Teresa says:

    So IMPRESSIVE! What a wonderful tribute to the motivated dental students who realized a need in their community and figured out a way to serve others! Hats off to the U of D teaching staff and program director Kellie Reneau for allowing these vision-minded dental students an opportunity to pursue their mission. Because of students like Blair White, Joe, Remy, Jake, Rob, Zehra, and all those involved, I am certain that U of D will be viewed as a model of inspiration for other dental schools. Nice Work!!! Big White Smiles to All!!

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