Usually, our smiles are the things people notice about us first. But when you are a victim of domestic or physical abuse, this may not be the case. For the past five years, a Toronto-based dentist, Dr. Tina Meisami, has been trying to change that.
Last week, on March 8, it was International Women’s Day—and also the day that Dr. Meisami began Project Restoring Smiles five years ago. Through the program, she and other dentists provide dental services to survivors of domestic violence and abuse. The price? Free.
“…This is a group of patients, the population, that really needs support and help,” Dr. Meisami said to CTV News.
According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, 67 precent of all Canadians say they personally know at least one woman who has been sexually or physically assaulted.
Furthermore, in Canada, more than 3,300 women (as well as their 3,000 children) are forced to sleep in an emergency shelter to escape domestic violence on any given day, and approximately 200 women per night are turned away due to shelters being full.
In the U.S., a woman is assaulted or beaten every nine seconds. Nine seconds.
“We wanted to do something within our own skills to help other women get out of the vicious cycle of abuse, neglect, poverty and their ramifications, such as poor oral and overall health,” Dr. Meisami said to City News.
One woman who benefited from Dr. Meisami’s program was “Sam,” a woman who’d been in an abusive situation, then in a shelter. “I just didn’t want to open my mouth,” she said. “And I was so ashamed of it and so sorry. And I felt it took away a big chunk of my beauty.”
She said her case worker told her about Project Restoring Smiles and told her, “We’re going to give you the smile that you had before. And I remember I broke down in tears.”
Sam needed two reconstructive surgeries. As part of her procedure, bone was taken from her hip to restore her gums.
“As a woman, I felt as though I needed to stand up for their rights,” Dr. Meisami told University of Toronto News, her alumni newspaper. “As a human being, I felt their pain. As a surgeon, I wanted to fix their oral and facial pain.”
To date, 45 patients have been treated through Project Restoring Smiles and it’s provided over $200,000 in free dental work. Initially, five dentists participated in the program, and now there are 18, including Dr. Meisami.
“[Meisami] has changed my life, saved my life, and I’m forever grateful for this,” Sam said to CTV. Project Restoring Smiles has changed Dr. Meisami’s life, too. “It’s deeply, deeply emotional and moving,” Dr. Meisami said.
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