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Free Smiles in Canada

Dentist starts nonprofit to honor the brother who taught her how to make a difference

  • November 11, 2016
  • By domesticshelters.org
Free Smiles in Canada

Dr. Tina Meisami remembers one of her patients, a woman who was so badly beaten that that she could hardly speak or chew. Meisami had to surgically reposition the woman’s jaw. Another patient, a woman in her 60s, had her entire face burned after her husband set her on fire. Meisami helped to repair her teeth and jaw as well. The stories are horrific, but Meisami tells her patients their background isn’t important. “You don’t need to prove anything to me,” she says.

Meisami just wants to give them a reason to smile again.

That’s why the Toronto dentist founded Project Restboring Smiles, which offers free dental and reconstructive services to domestic violence survivors. It was, in part, to also honor her brother, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Borna Meisami, who passed away suddenly at 40 years old. “I wanted to do something with my grief,” says Meisami, who describes her brother as a feminist, and her guiding light. “He made me aware that there are a lot of atrocities in the world against women and this is how you fight back, how you stand your ground.”

Even though Canada offers socialized medicine, it does not offer the same dentistry benefit, and dental services are not a given for all citizens. With a network of more than 20 doctors, Project Restoring Smiles work relies on domestic violence shelters to find survivors who are in need of their services. So far, they’ve donated more than $200,000 in dental work.

“Going into it, we thought we’d see a lot of trauma. But the majority of cases are dental disease, caused either by an inability to access care or because a patient’s underlying anxiety and depression caused them to be unable to care for themselves,” says Meisami. Others, she says, fell into destructive addictions post-abuse that led to the deterioration of their health, teeth included.

However, some have suffered extreme trauma, like the woman who was set on fire, or other patients who have received direct blows to the face, knocking out teeth permanently. Some victims’ teeth have broken down after repeated clenching and grinding, a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. Others have teeth damaged by acid, a by-product of bulimia victims suffer as a result of abuse.

In any case, Meisami says the change after treatment is remarkable. “There is a tremendous increase in self-confidence and self-worth. That someone cares enough to want to help them gives them a desire to care for themselves even further.” She says patients who come in self-consciously covering their smiles because of missing front teeth feel like they’re born again after Project Restoring Smiles. “They are truly happy again,” says Meisami.

If you’re in the Toronto area and are a domestic violence survivor in need of dental services, you can find the referral form here, which needs to be filled out by a caseworker or shelter manager.

There are similar programs in the U.S. that offer dental reconstruction to survivors, which you can read about here.

Do You Know a Domestic Violence Hero?

DomesticShelters.org is looking for individuals doing heroic things, big or small, within their communities to help survivors of domestic violence. If you know someone, let us know about them by emailing Amanda@DomesticShelters.org and they may be featured in an upcoming story. #DomesticViolenceHeroes

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