What's the first thing you do when you see someone? It's usually smile.
Corey Vess, though, had a mouthful of bad teeth and often hid his smile.
"I wouldn't take pictures. I wouldn't smile," he said. "I didn't really go to the dentist very much. And over time, they started rotting and breaking. It was painful."
Eventually, he went to the dentist and it didn't go well. "They judged me. The lady looked at me, and it was like, 'Oh, God!'" Vess, 28, never went back. He went on about his life, working in retail, talking to customers yet always feeling that he didn't measure up.
"Every time I talked to someone, I felt like they were looking at my teeth and judging me," said Vess.
He was exactly the type of client Cindy Barron was looking for when she convinced her bosses at 1st Dental and Orthodontics in Saginaw to offer someone a free smile makeover.
"A little emotional, really sad," said Barron as she recalled the first time she met Vess. "Just to know he wasn't able to get any dental care."
You could tell he had a great personality but he didn't want to open up much. He was reserved. And his teeth told the story of some hardships in his life," said Jeremy Unger, DDS.
The team decided to take Vess' case and give him back his smile and at no charge. "At first, I didn't believe it. I was in shock," said Vess. Vess would not pay a cent for what turned out to be almost $10,000 in dental work.
"It's nice to be able to help people," said Unger. "That's why we do what we do."
The work started back in January. Dr. Unger put crowns on some teeth, pulled others - mainly in the front - and eventually replaced them with a partial plate.
"There were things with his teeth that were starting to change very noticeably. They were starting to deteriorate and it was making it difficult for him to function and interact with people," said Unger. "As we've gotten to know him over this journey, you can see his personality start to open up."
NBC5 was there this week when nine months of dental work came to an end. At the end of the appointment, Vess would leave with his smile restored.
"And this is how we're giving back to Corey. So, he can have a happy life, be able to smile," said Barron, the office manager who first met Corey.
Dr. Unger carefully put the prosthetic in Vess' mouth, making sure it fit in the right places and that the seven teeth including three in the front looked like they belonged in Vess' smile.
"There's a personality element to the shape of the teeth, so you can put the wrong teeth in somebody and it changes them in way we don't want or you can get as close to what he was and it really brings back that person as they used to be," explained Unger.
And in Vess' case, the payoff was there as he looked into the mirror and saw what he'd lost so long ago.
"I'm excited, this is great," said a smiling Vess. "It is amazing. I'm in shock. It's crazy!"
Vess stared at the man in the mirror almost in disbelief.
"Oh, yeah. That's amazing. There are no words. Really! That's me. Wow!", said Vess. "I can smile now and it's beautiful. It's amazing!"
"For me it's getting to help a person be who they've always been," said Unger. "It's not about me changing them. It's about me getting them back to who they were and that's great."
"We're so happy were were able to take care of him," said Barron.
It was the first time the team at 1st Dental and Orthodontics had done a smile makeover. Barron says, "to keep the tradition going, we have decided to take on another smile makeover in 2019. So if you know someone who deserves a brand new smile, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story."