"A smile can be so critical for a performer,"

"A smile can be so critical for a performer," says Roy A. Somlyo, a veteran theatre producer and former president of the American Theatre Wing. He's talking about a soon-to-be-launched program he helped broker between the Actors' Fund of America and New York University's Center for Continuing Dental Education called Broadway Smiles. "We want to give young professional actors and performers that extra leg up in the business if they fear they have off-color teeth or a crooked smile," he explains.

The project took shape after Somlyo learned that the center, a program of NYU's College of Dentistry, was in a unique position to provide young performers a valuable service that they might not ordinarily be able to afford. H. Kendall Beacham, assistant dean of the college and the center's director, explains that the center's fees for aesthetic dentistry are regularly half the market rate. He cites laminates, the porcelain veneer applied to the front of a tooth to make it more aesthetically pleasing: "In Manhattan, laminates are often $1,500 to $3,000 per tooth. Our fees are likely to be $800." This is because the work is done by dentists who have come to the center to study the special techniques involved in cosmetic dentistry.

What makes Broadway Smiles possible is the Irwin and Lucia Smigel Fund, which was set up by Dr. Irwin Smigel, a well-regarded practitioner of cosmetic dentistry in New York and the author of Dental Health, Dental Beauty, for the aesthetic dentistry needs of young actors. Smigel is the father of Robert Smigel, a comedian and writer on Saturday Night Live. Beacham explains that the fund will allow the center to further discount its services for professional performers: An $800 laminate would now cost $400, and bleaching services, for which the usual charge is $500, would now cost $250. The fee represents lab costs in the case of a surgical procedure or materials in the case of bleaching; all other professional fees will be waived, says Beacham.

When Somlyo learned of the Smigel Fund and the services provided by the center, he approached James Brown, director of health services for the Actors' Fund, to help administer a program. "We are here to assist people in continuing to pursue a career in entertainment or the performing arts, so we believe this is a service that meets that mission," Brown says. The Actors' Fund's health programs currently include a free health clinic, a health-insurance resource center, and the Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative.

Twice a year, coinciding with the center's fall and spring semesters, Broadway Smiles will select about 20 candidates, according to Brown. Applicants must have a minimum of five years of industry employment with earnings of at least $6,500 in three of the last five years, but union membership is not required. Other factors, such as extreme financial need, may also be considered. "We expect that the need is greatest among young people just coming up and unable to afford the cosmetic surgery needed," says Brown, who expects the program to begin in a few weeks (check www.actorsfund.org) and the first group to receive their dental work in September.

Those selected will be sent to the Center for Continuing Dental Education, at 345 E. 24th St. in Manhattan, where they'll undergo an initial screening lasting no more than 30 minutes to determine whether the procedure the applicant has requested is feasible. "Often a patient doesn't know their real need," Beacham explains. "For instance, you can't just take a laminate and put it over a tooth if in fact the tooth has other serious issues that go with it." If the treatment required before aesthetic dentistry can occur is relatively minor, however, the center will take care of it, Beacham says. Patients who don't qualify will be referred to the College of Dentistry, where they can get help for whatever other procedures they may require.

Somlyo notes that the center's facilities resemble those of a private practice, and Beacham explains that although the providers are students, they are all practicing dentists who work under the supervision of the college's faculty. The program's services will include tooth-colored fillings, bleaching, bonding, laminates, and crowns. Beacham estimates that a minimum of three visits will be required for an actor to complete the procedures needed to brighten up his or her smile. "It's a wonderful chance to give back to the community," says Somlyo. And for those who feel their careers are poised to take off, it's a wonderful chance to acquire a confident Broadway smile.