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Ohio fun run boosts area clinic

Sylvania, Ohio—"Have Fun, Get Fit, Give Back." It's the slogan for Miles For Smiles and nicely sums up what 700 people accomplished May 2 in the first-time 5k run/walk to benefit a nonprofit dental clinic for underserved patients.

Organized by local periodontist Dr. Ziad Tohme, Miles For Smiles cast a wide net in calling on the dental community, dental suppliers, patients and area businesses to support the Dental Center of Northwest Ohio. The runners and walkers raised some $54,000 for the center. 

"Dentistry is a good profession, and I am blessed to be able to organize something like this to give back to the community," said Dr. Tohme. "It's a cheerful event in tough times and it raised the spirits of people."

The Dental Center of Northwest Ohio is a nonprofit clinic that provides dental services to more than 20,000 patients a year with limited access to care. Residents living at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level or receiving Medicaid are eligible for treatment.

The center has struggled in the last few years adjusting to cutbacks, including an overall reduction in Medicaid reimbursement. In 2006, it lost a quarter of a million dollars and fought to break even the following year. 

A committee of volunteer dentists and hygienists began planning Miles For Smiles in 2007. Dr. Tohme and his family participate in the Susan G. Komen Race For the Cure, an annual event that raises funds for breast cancer screening, treatment and education programs.

"It started with a small idea, Susan Komen's sister making a promise to keep her memory alive, and now it's a $1.2 billion fundraiser that engaged the community and revolved around a good cause," said Dr. Tohme. "People want to support their own community and give back, and we knew it could be done here."

But looking at the details—including permits, facility expenses, promotions, gifts and awards—"We were warned that we will generate money but also that we may spend it all," said Dr. Tohme. "We were careful, because we wanted to net as much money as we possibly could for the dental center."

In the end, the committee expected about 250 runners and walkers, and hoped to raise $20,000, said Dr. Tohme. 

"The donation [from Miles For Smiles] will be used to match a $25,000 grant from the Toledo Community Foundation to provide dental care for children birth though age 5 and to provide education and care management services for their parents and caregivers," said Lindy Cree, the manager of Dental Center of Northwest Ohio. "In essence, the Miles For Smiles funds leveraged another $25,000 for the dental center for a total of $50,000."

Miles For Smiles complements the work of the area's Give Kids A Smile program. After GKAS, many dentist volunteers go on to "adopt" a child for dental care, or even an entire family, and continue to provide low- or no-cost dental care for them. In the long term, the planners behind Miles For Smiles hope to build on this concept.

The event offered a variety of ways for people to participate: from donating dental treatment to buying shirts, sponsoring a portion of the race, recruiting corporate sponsors or volunteering on race day. Area businesses and dental supply companies donated items such as food and drinks for the race and dental implants and other supplies for the dental center. Many dental offices competed to raise funds, and encouraged patients to get involved with posters that said, "Tell Dr. ____ To Take a Walk."

The committee brought the Toledo Running Club on board for race-day logistics, which included a half-k fun race for children. Adults received goodie bags with toothbrushes, paste, mugs and coupons; and kids received healthy snacks, Beanie Babies and medals.

Dr. Tohme created his own version of the popular TV show "The Biggest Loser" by awarding prizes to staff who pursued fitness and weight loss programs. One staff member was awarded $250 for losing 40 pounds.

"It's been a fun experience for people who train together and support one another in their goals," said Dr. Tohme.

The next Miles For Smiles takes place May 1, 2010. The planning committee is in the process of pursuing nonprofit status for future events, and communities in Ohio and Michigan have already contacted organizers for guidance on starting their own races.

For more information, visit the Web site www.milesforsmilestoledo.org or contact Dr. Tohme via www.toledoperio.com.