Smile Design Gallery Dr Lee Gause

Dr. Lee Gause (right) standing next to a Takashi Murakami print

New York City’s Smile Design Gallery might offer one of the coolest approaches to giving we've ever seen.

Since its inception last spring, the out-of-the-box charity, founded by celebrity dentist Dr. Lee Gause, provides complimentary dental services to uninsured people through various art shows/auctions with several celebrities and artists, including Swizz Beatz, Fab Five Freddy, A$AP TyY, Angelo Romano and Chi Modu.

The art shows are normally held every month at various locations around Manhattan, from the luxurious Hudson Hotel to the famed Riverside Church. With $300,000 raised thus far, the next event is scheduled for July 9 at SoHo's Martin Lawrence Gallery. Japan-born Takashi Murakami, who’s worked with Kanye West and Pharrell Williams, is one of the many artists who will be featured throughout the evening.

The concept behind SDG might be a little unconventional, but it seems to be working considering the fact that more than 500 uninsured people were treated within the past year. To date, approximately 126 million Americans lack dental coverage, according to the National Association of Dental Plans.

Perhaps the most unique and interesting aspect about SDG is that Gause’s dental office was once an art gallery so it’s only natural, he says, that it’d be converted back to one from time to time, where works from the legendary Andy Warhol to local, up-and-coming street artists are displayed for sale. Ranging anywhere from $5,000 to $120,000 per piece, 100 percent of the art sales go toward treating people, who might not otherwise be able to afford the highest quality of dental care.  

“We’ve been involved in charitable dentistry for years, but we started SDG after one weekend when we ran the numbers on what our good deed actually cost [and the numbers were] astronomical,” Gause says. “Healthcare costs in America are through the roof. Our mission is that 100 percent of the value of art sold is matched in free dental care for uninsured people.”

Rather than offer the most cost-effective treatment to a large amount of people, SDG does the exact opposite by offering the highest level of care to a select group of people who truly need it, including porcelain veneers, dental implants and sedation dentistry. In fact, one gentleman, who fell down a flight of stairs and lost all of his front teeth as a result, received $25,000 worth of dental work thanks to SDG.

“Obviously, the most rewarding part is knowing that we’re positively impacting people’s futures,” Gause says. “I fixed one teenager’s broken front tooth. For me, that was meaningful because I know he can smile proudly in college or job interviews and as he goes through life.”

In the upcoming years, Gause plans on expanding the charity by treating patients in other major cities and bringing in additional doctors, as well as working with iconic artists, who cross racial and class boundaries and produce art that’s political in nature, such as Paris-born, Los Angeles-based street artist Mr. Brainwash.

Although Gause’s celebrity clients include Danny Green, Floyd Mayweather and Angela Simmons, he sustains that the real stars are the hard-working New Yorkers, who choose to purchase art from SDG instead of a traditional gallery.

“I’ve been blessed with an incredible dental practice. We have an amazing clientele for which we can offer the highest level of dental care,” he says. “We sell incredible art, but the people who buy it know their purchases help provide dental care for those who need it. We owe a lot to them and we’re grateful for their support.”

For more information about Smile Design Gallery, visit the official website.  

Princess Gabbara is a 20-something Michigan-based journalist/freelance writer. As a graduate of Eastern Michigan University, she’s contributed to several local and national publications, including Ebony.com, Essence.com, xoJane.com, Clutch Magazine and The Glamazons Blog. You can read more of her work on her blog. She also tweets at @PrincessGabbara.