A jolly new smile for Santa

Thanks to some local dentists, kids won't be seeing him without teeth

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

Published:

 

A Vancouver man with aspirations to be Santa Claus has but one wish this Christmas: A full set of teeth.

Not only is Marvin Holbert's wish being granted by local dentists, but Christmas is coming early for Santa this year. In the next few weeks, Holbert will have a new smile.

The pearly whites will be the final touch for the 56-year-old Santa look-alike.

Holbert's white and strawberry blond hair stretches past his shoulders, drawing compliments from women in awe of his long locks. His well-kept beard of the same color trumps the artificial Santa beards. His rosy skin complexion, wide (although close-lipped) smile and reading glasses complete the look.

But thanks to the generosity of local dentists, Holbert will soon be able to smile wide when asking children about the contents of their Christmas list.

"I just don't want them to see Santa without teeth," he said. "How do you explain that?"

In recent years, life hasn't been so jolly for Holbert.

For 25 years, Holbert worked as an engineer and technician in the semiconductor industry. He was living in Florida and traveling all over the world working on equipment.

"And then, everything crashed," he said.

Holbert was laid off from his job. He decided to start his own business, but before he could get it off the ground, the economy crashed. Holbert lost everything.

The situation, coupled with side effects of heart medication, sent Holbert spiraling into depression. For the past three years, Holbert has been seeking treatment at SeaMar Community Health Center in Vancouver.

"It's been a lot of work, but I'm coming back," Holbert said.

In the past year and a half, he's slowly been stepping outside of his comfort zone. He recently started meeting women again. He's trying new things.

One of those new things is dressing up as Saint Nick. After years of hearing comments about his appearance, Holbert decided to put on a red suit and play the part. Last year, he volunteered to be Santa at a couple of private holiday events and loved it.

"I love the expressions on the kids' (faces)," Holbert said. "It's a lot of fun to watch them and their reactions."

"It lets me know there's still hope out there," he added.

The only problem, Holbert said, is his teeth. Or, rather, his lack of teeth. But his financial situation left him with few options.

Holbert lives on his monthly $550 Social Security disability check and $200 in food stamps. He pays $300 for his portion of rent, and after paying his other expenses, Holbert has little disposable income.

After 25 years, the caps covering the majority of his teeth started to wear and fall off. But Holbert couldn't afford the $1,800 per tooth to replace the caps. Instead, he had the teeth pulled. Now he's down to two teeth.

Earlier this year, the staff at SeaMar started reaching out to local dentists for help. Wendel Dental in Vancouver agreed to provide dental care for Holbert free of charge, and the work started Tuesday. The Laboratory of Dental Arts in Vancouver is constructing the dentures at no charge.

"We were pretty ecstatic to do this for him," said Becky Lane, clinical team manager at Wendel Dental.

Full upper and lower dentures typically cost about $3,000, Lane said. Add in the cost of extracting the remaining teeth, dental office visits and follow-up appointments, and the total cost can reach $5,000, she said.

"There's no way I could afford it," Holbert said.

With the dental bill taken care of, Holbert is turning his attention to finding paid Santa gigs this holiday season. Holbert used money he saved from working odd jobs this summer to purchase a red Honda motorcycle and rebuild the bike's blown engine. He plans to use the motorcycle in lieu of a sleigh for Santa appearances.

Holbert hopes the money he makes working as Santa will help him get back on his feet and started down a new path.

"I'm hoping for good things," Holbert said. "But what I do do, I'm going to enjoy."

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health;http://facebook.com/reporterharshman;marissa.harshman@columbian.com.