White Ribbon Day (Friday 23 November) highlights the ongoing prevalence of domestic and family violence within our communities and the vital role that men and boys play in ending this violence.
The aim of the movement of which White Ribbon Day is a major awareness-raising initiative is, according to White Ribbon Australia, “to create an Australian society where all women can live in safety, free from violence and abuse.”
While much sadly remains to be done to realise this necessary, life-saving mission, dentists throughout Australia can play their part in this campaign by volunteering to provide essential care to women and families who have experienced domestic violence. The Australian Dental Health Foundation (ADHF), through their Rebuilding Smiles® program, provides opportunities for dentists to volunteer their time and expertise to assist reduce the devasting impact of the physical and mental trauma for survivors.
Since its launch in 2016, the Rebuilding Smiles® program has worked in partnership with support agencies working with survivors of domestic violence and volunteer dentists to provide free dental treatments to survivors of domestic violence.
One of the women whose lives have been transformed by the program is Sarah*, who talks about the transformative difference that dental work has made to her life.
I suffered from domestic violence for almost 15 years. One day it dawned on me how badly being in that type of environment everyday was probably affecting my only child, and so, getting the courage from somewhere (I’m not sure where), we left in the middle of the night, never to return. Enough was enough.
Since that time, I have tried so very hard to rebuild my life through the support of counsellors, psychiatrists, family and friends. I have had many hiccups on my ongoing journey to recovery with constant court appearances, physical and mental health problems and severe financial stress but a definite exciting highlight was my first visit to Integrated Smiles and Dr Kerry Chen.
In a very emotionally-charged visit, I explained to Kerry the effect of that long-term domestic violence had had on my self-confidence. The very last thing I wanted to do was to smile. I had nothing to smile about. I had over the years developed a learned behaviour in which I always covered my mouth, my gaps, my teeth, believing I wasn’t allowed to be happy at all.
Thanks to the compassion and understanding of Dr Chen and his staff I have regained some independence and confidence and the motivation to return to study and complete my qualification. While I still find it hard not to cover my mouth during conversation and laughter, it’s getting better with time, and I honestly the treatment and care I received had a massive effect on my life.
I have managed to obtain employment in a limited capacity for the first time in 15 years as a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) and I will be eternally grateful for this opportunity that the Rebuilding Smiles program has given me. I feel like I am able to smile and not hide. Thank you so very much.
The ADHF would love to hear from you if you are interested in helping change the lives of women like Sarah*. If you’d like to volunteer your time and expertise, please go to www.adhf.org.au/volunteer/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
* names have been changed