As one looks down Genesee Street, you will see a purple stripe to commemorate October being National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Domestic violence healing is something that I have had the opportunity to be involved with from the dental point of view. The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry Foundation has a program I am proud to be a part of called Give Back a Smile.
A smile is a huge part of a person’s self-esteem. If a person has a smile that they are ashamed of showing, it can be crushing to their self-esteem. This can lead to depression and withdrawal of that person. Many acts of domestic violence involve the victim being physically abused and violated by being struck in the face. This can damage the victim’s smile, which can then be crushing to the victim’s self-esteem. The victim’s smile can even be the target of the physical abuse because the abuser knows that they can then exert not only physical, but emotional and mental abuse on the victim. Sounds pretty sick, doesn’t it? Well, I have to say that I have the most limited experience in these matters, so my experiences are the bare minimum compared to what some of the true experts handle every day.
The Give Back a Smile program is a program where members of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry donate their services to restore the smiles of domestic violence victims. The participating volunteer dentist provides restorative and cosmetic dentistry in the smile zone to qualified survivors. There are a number of laboratories around the country that participate in the program by providing free lab products and services. I am proud to say that a local laboratory, BonaDent Dental Laboratory, is one of these participating labs. I can also enlist the help of specialists when needed to help with more advanced treatment. Any time I have called upon my specialist colleagues, they have been more than willing to also volunteer their skills and time to help with these victims.
The Give Back a Smile program was launched in 1999. Since then, member dentists and laboratories have volunteered their time and expertise, pro bono, to restore the damaged smiles of more than 1,200 domestic violence victims. More than $12 million worth of dental services have been donated to improve the smiles and therefore help to rebuild the lives of these victims. There are currently more than 300 applicants being treated throughout the United States and Canada.
My own experiences with this program could not be more positive. Nothing is more rewarding than to be able to give back to a domestic violence victim a small part of what was taken away from them. To work together with my team and my colleagues to give that person back their smile and therefore help them build back their self-esteem has to be one of the most satisfying things I have been able to do in my profession.
In this month of domestic violence awareness, there are many people in our community who can speak about the topic with much more expertise than me. I would just like to make you aware of the part that dentistry can play. Improving the smile can make a huge effect on a person in improving their self-esteem and healing.