A team of female dentists is rebuilding abuse survivors' smiles

Mar 9, 2016 at 3:35 p.m. ET

When an Ontario survivor of domestic violence left her abusive partner, he left her with a painful reminder of the violence she experienced at his hands — damaged teeth. 

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"I just didn’t want to open my mouth,” she said. “I was so ashamed of it and I was so sorry,” the woman told CTV News, asking them to simply identify her as Sam. She needed reconstructive surgery on her teeth, but in Ontario, there are no publicly funded long-term dental services for women like Sam to access. While some medically necessary dental services are available under the Ontario Health Plan if done in a hospital, that's often not enough for low-income women.

That's where Project Restoring Smiles steps in, a team of female dentists working to fill a service gap for women who have survived abuse. “Our vision is to restore confidence in women who have survived domestic violence by addressing the physical effects of abuse,” explained Dr. Tina Meisami in a statement. “Restoring a woman’s smile has an incredibly powerful impact on her overall physical and mental health."

Project Restoring Smiles provides women with thousands of dollars' worth of dental treatments — both cosmetic and medically necessary — including orthodontics, crowns and bridges, fillings, dental implants, cleanings, root canals, extractions and surgical facial reconstruction, veneers, bleaching and scar revision. In our appearance-obsessed society, the cosmetic services offered give women a leg up when interviewing for new jobs and starting their lives anew. “It is inspiring to know that something as simple as restoring a smile can help someone’s self-confidence, her relationships, her job prospects — it really improves her life," said Meisami.

Sam recalls breaking down into tears when she found out she could get her dental coverage done for free. Meisami performed two reconstructive dental surgeries on her, which Sam says changed her life. "I’m forever grateful for this,” she said.

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Unfortunately, Sam's story is not unique. According to Statistics Canada data, there are nearly 8,000 women and children living in shelters across Canada, many of whom are victims of intimate partner abuse. “The length of our wait list tells us that a lot of survivors in our community need access to dental care," said Meisami. Project Restoring Smiles has treated 45 patients since launching five years ago, giving abuse survivors around $200,000 worth of free dentistry services.

Project Restoring Smiles is currently based in the Toronto area but recently announced plans to expand to St. Catharines and Ottawa. “This growth marks the first step in the Project’s goal to offer services nationwide across Canada,” said Meisami.

If you're interested in helping this charity go national, you can make a donation at its website.


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