About Us


A Child’s Smile Says It All!

Smile Starters provides general dental treatment to thousands of underserved children and young adults throughout North Carolina. Good dental health is an important ingredient of overall health. Preventative care is the focus of Smile Starters and with regular dental check-ups we can diagnose dental problems early.
We want our young patients to enjoy smiles that last a lifetime and our entire staff works toward that goal. We always accept new patients and appointment times are available to fit your busy schedule. Of course Smile Starters accepts most insurances including MEDICAID, Health Choice, TRICARE and Blue Cross / Blue Shield at little or no cost to you.

Dr. Rafael Rivera Jr., DDS

A North Carolina native, Dr. Rivera refers to Fayetteville, NC as home. He received his degree in 1998 from the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry including elective courses in Caring for Special Needs patients and children. He also holds a BA in Chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Rivera served four years as a US Navy Dental Officer earning several awards including the Naval and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and Volunteer Service Medal. During his naval service Dr. Rivera completed his Advanced Education in General Dentistry.

Dr. Rivera purchased Smile Starters in 2008 and was able to begin fulfilling his aspirations to improve access to quality dental care for the underserved while simultaneously changing perceptions of how public health dentistry can be integrated in to private practice. He is a member of the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
Other membership and positions held include:

  • President, Gaston County Dental Society
  • Coordinator, Give Kids a Smile – Gaston County Dental Society
  • Member, Children’s Oral Health Task Force
  • Board Member, UNC Dental Alumni Association
  • Host – NC Mini MOM / NCDS Mission of Mercy

Dr. Rivera believes in accountability, ethical stewardship and doing things “the right way, the first time”. The Smile Starters offices strive to provide a “dental home” for North Carolina’s underserved.