Giving The Gift Of Smiles

Sue Mortenson.

Sue Mortenson.

Staff Writer
The Voice-Tribune 

It’s been said the more you give, the more you receive. Sue Mortenson is living proof of the adage.

The wife of Dr. Wayne Mortenson, founder of Mortenson Family Dental, has emphasized the importance of giving throughout her lifetime and incorporated her charitable values into her husband’s booming practice. In particular, Mortenson Family Dental is committed to raising money for Smiles for Life, an international 501(c)(3) non-profit whose mission is to support children’s charities around the world. Each year since 1998, Mortenson has hosted a campaign for the non-profit by donating all proceeds from dental whitening from March through June, raising more than
$1,000,000 to date.

“We’ve been the top producing Smiles for Life (participant) for the last eight years or so,” Sue beamed with pride. “We can do it because we’ve got volume.” The scope of Mortenson’s reach is wide, with 76 offices in the U.S., including 40 in Kentucky. As part of the Smiles for Life campaign, all Mortenson locations, along with its Braces Braces Braces and Kid’s Dentistree branches, are engaged in the effort, offering any individual, whether a patient or not, the choice of Zoom! in-office whitening for $199 (regularly $450) and BriteSmile take-home whitening trays for $99 (regularly $249). Each whitening purchase will be made in the form of a tax free donation, and all proceeds go directly to Smiles for Life, benefiting children’s charities locally and around the world.

“The product is totally donated by the dental companies that produce it. We do the work for free,” Sue explained. “The nicest thing you can do for yourself is whiten your teeth. It makes you look younger and healthier, and so it’s well worth doing.”

Dr. Jeff Mortenson.

Dr. Jeff Mortenson.

Locally, the Smiles for Life program will support Kosair Children’s Hospital, School Choice Scholarships and WaterStep. Inspired by a recent trip to Africa with nine of her 15 grandchildren, Sue felt drawn toward WaterStep after witnessing an impoverished African school lacking resources needed to access drinkable water. Following the trip, in July of last year, Sue and Wayne ran into WaterStep’s founder Mark Hogg on an elevator ride and decided to dedicate their time to assisting his organization that provides clean drinking water to third world countries through the collection of new and used shoes, which help fund safe drinking water projects and foster micro-business opportunities in poor countries to keep waste out of landfills. Beginning in August, shoe collection boxes were placed in every office of Mortenson Family Dental. “We have now collected, since August, 5,000 pounds of shoes,” Sue said. “It takes 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of shoes to (fund) the water equipment.”

Aside from Smiles for Life and Sue’s present initiative with WaterStep, she’s organizing Eagle “U,” a four-day, action-packed, educational seminar held at the University of Louisville June 24 through 28 to help young people achieve success and realize their greatest potential. “We’ve got mentors coming and fabulous speakers to teach children that if it’s meant to be, it’s up to me, that you can be successful and there are ways to do it,” Sue said.

It’s not just children whom Sue hopes to support and empower. Quarterly, Mortenson Family Dental provides free dentistry at various offices for those unable to afford a visit. For staff, Mortenson offers an employee stock ownership plan, and each year, the company holds a corporate summit for Mortenson employees and regional partners located in Georgia, Iowa, Texas and Idaho. “It’s just for improving how you feel about yourself basically,” Sue said of the summit. “It’s not really about dentistry, because I feel like if I can make you feel better, then you’ll be kinder and more in-tune to our patients.”

It’s this philosophy that’s led Mortenson Family Dental to grow from one location in 1979 to the 76, and counting, in existence. Considering where Sue and Wayne began, working on a ranch in Arizona, to their current success, it’s at times hard to believe even for Sue. “The lord sent us here,” she stated, recalling the decision to move to Kentucky, where Wayne attended dental school at the University of Louisville. Their children followed suit, with all three sons graduating from the same school. Today, Brent Mortenson, Jeff Mortenson and Todd Mortenson work for Mortenson Family Dental, along with Dr. William Engilman, an orthodontist and husband of Wayne and Sue’s daughter, Dena.

Sue said Wayne’s dream goal is to reach 200 Mortenson practices by 2018. Based on their enthusiasm and past rate of success, it’s an accomplishment likely to be fulfilled. “We were 32 when we went back to school. We were in our 50s before we were starting to really grow,” Sue said. “We just kept going forward. When we first started, for the first five years, we didn’t get paid three times out of the year. We just had to suck it up.”

Through their commitment to each other, the practice and their employees, the initial sacrifice has paid off nicely. But, Sue is humble about her role in Mortenson’s expansion and philanthropic outreach. “It isn’t me, it’s the people out there. … I just really think that we’ve got a caring group of people that want to help,” said Sue, recipient of the 2013 Crown Council Humanitarian of the Year Award. “The more that you give, it just comes back to you. And the more that people give, the better their hearts are, the kinder they are, the more in-tune they are. When you walk into (a Mortenson) office, I hope my people really take care of you and make you feel important.”

For more on Mortenson Family Dental and their Smiles for Life campaign, visit

Contact writer Ashley Anderson at, 502.498.2051.