My smile was gone, but there is an amazing program called “Give Back A Smile” sponsored by the American Academy Of Cosmetic Dentistry. It helps victims of domestic violence.
This is a life-changing program, and I want others to know about it. The dentists graciously donate their time, and the labs donate any materials needed.
Very often in cases of domestic violence there is damage done to the teeth. In my case, my ex-husband knocked out many of my back teeth on both sides, and chipped a few front ones. With low income and no insurance, I was unable to afford to fix them.
On a day when I was feeling extra bad about my appearance, I saw a short TV commercial about the “Give Back A Smile” program. I called for an application, filled it out, and sent it in. Would I get back my smile? Did I dare hope? This was indeed my only hope.
While I waited for the answer, I was flooded with memories of the abuse. It had been over 10 years since I had finally gotten the courage to leave him. But the flashes of terror and pain were as fresh and real as they were back then.
One time he hit me so hard I felt like my eyeballs came out of their sockets, and then they popped back in with a sickening sound. Another time he fractured my skull, and I ended up in the hospital for almost a month.
We had been married for about seven years before the abuse got physical. He had always been verbally abusive, very controlling and vicious. As is common with abusers, his alcohol and drug use would make things escalate to the horrific level. Even though I have healed in many ways, the haunting memories will last forever.
There was another important element that played into my dental problems. As a child, I was severely abused by my father. In order to get free dental care for the family, I was offered up as a sex toy for a dentist friend who was a pedophile like my father. Trips to the dentist became terror-filled times, accompanied by great pain.
Unfortunately, I am now left with a fear of the dentist that goes far beyond what most people experience. I know now it is my childhood abuse that set me up for a marriage filled with domestic violence.
I never realized how important my smile was until I lost it. As a public speaker, I understand the importance of how we present ourselves. It is hard to take a person seriously when they have bad diction, due to a gap-toothed smile, that takes away from the important matter at hand. I missed my smile. I did not feel like myself anymore. People treated me differently. My self-esteem was at an all-time low.
About six months after I applied, I got the letter saying they had accepted my application. I was so excited I could hardly stay in my own skin. The day finally arrived for the first visit, and I was terrified. Was this a nice dentist, or one like I had seen before: insensitive, boorish…abusive?
I sat in the dentist chair, and as usual the tears flowed quietly down my cheeks. The new dentist was examining my mouth when he noticed my tears. He stopped what he was doing, sat me back up, pulled up a chair, and handed me some tissue. He then did his best to win my trust. He reassured me that I was safe in his office, and that no one would ever hurt me there. No dentist had ever done that before. This man was clearly different. By the end of that first visit, he and his staff had indeed won my trust.
The whole process took about three years to complete. When I went for the last fitting, they said they would call me as soon as my smile arrived. It seemed like an eternity went by. Then one day the phone rang a little differently.
When I placed the receiver back in the cradle, I let out a shout of joy that could be heard across town. The day had finally arrived. My smile was ready to be put in. Now, I wake up every morning with a renewed sense of strength and purpose… then a smile spreads across my face that is so bright, I feel like it could light up the whole world!
There is a wonderful epilogue to this story. The “Give Back A Smile” program offers scholarship opportunities to program recipients that are trying to go back to school. I am working towards my degree in social work, but was in danger of having to quit due to financial reasons.
I am proud to report that I was chosen to receive one of the scholarships. I am doing my best to honor this award by being diligent in my studies. I have a 4.0 grade point average and will continue to volunteer with domestic violence hotlines and shelters while I am in school.
I will be using my degree specifically to work with domestic violence/child abuse victims. My dream is to one day be a national speaker in the fight for this worthy, important cause. I want to show people that there is hope and healing on the other side. I want to teach them that they do not have to stay stuck in the “one day I will be good enough” syndrome.
When I look at the world with hope, I can see it as clear as day in my mind’s eye . . . the time when we all come together in unity around this issue and stand victorious against it!
Cynthia Sinclair and Debra Lee Goto will speak on April 21, 1p.m. at Paliku Theatre to raise awareness about sexual violence.
by Cynthia Sinclair, Special to Ka ‘Ohana