Dentist helps give back smiles to victims of domestic violence
It can be hard enough for a person who has experienced domestic violence to find a reason to smile.
If that person suffered broken teeth because of domestic violence or let an oral-health problem escalate because arriving at the dentist with other injuries would be embarrassing, smiling can be even more uncomfortable.
The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry Charitable Foundation saw the need to help people fix oral problems related to domestic violence and created the Give Back a Smile program in 1999. Grand Junction dentist Dr. Julie Gillis has participated for 10 years in the program, which connects victims of domestic violence with dentists across the U.S. and Canada for free dental treatment.
“It’s awesome, especially when you can take someone with low self-esteem, who is on their own, trying to get their feet back under them, maybe get a job, and they’re uncomfortable because of their smile. Then all of a sudden they can smile. They aren’t in pain anymore. It can change their life,” Gillis said.
Gillis, who practices at 1190 Bookcliff Ave., Suite 201, said she hasn’t seen a patient through the program in a couple of years, but some dentists in larger areas see a person every three to six months. Gillis said she knows the need is out there, she’s just not sure everyone feels comfortable seeing a dentist who will know what they have gone through.
“Due to the nature of the issue, we have some people who are all lined up, and then something happens and they never come in,” she said.
Others may want the help, but they don’t know about the program, she said. The foundation finds some potential patients through domestic violence hotlines or programs, Gillis said, but anyone interested can apply through the foundation’s website, givebackasmile.com, and downloading a patient application. Applicant hopefuls can also call 1-800-773-4227 to get an application, which should be mailed to GBAS, 402 West Wilson St., Madison, WI, 53703 or faxed to 888-488-6888.
Between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2011, 107 people received help through the program. The average patient received $10,000 in free smile-restoration services, according to Give Back a Smile’s annual report.