Suffering in silence. That describes the plight of many of the millions who experience physical abuse at the hands of an intimate partner every year in the United States. The emotional scars may never fully heal, but a program established by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD) is making an effort to help domestic violence survivors by rehabilitating their physical scars.
Mercedes Williams-Brown was abused by her son’s father for years and lost many of her teeth due to the physical violence. After he passed away, she did her best to rebuild her life—eventually deciding to pursue a career as a marriage and family therapist to help other couples work out their differences. “I’ve been through so much, which is why I want to help others dealing with violence and abuse,” she shares.
“The Give Back a Smile program has given me AN opportunity to help, and for that I am grateful.”
Dental work was a scary and expensive option for Mercedes, so she continued to avoid getting help. She was in constant pain—taking medicine daily for her discomfort—and she was embarrassed by her appearance.
One day Mercedes was treating a very young therapy patient, and she noticed the toddler covering her own mouth with her hand during their conversation. She realized the little girl was disturbed by seeing her counselor’s missing teeth—and at that moment she knew she had to do something about it. As Mercedes describes it, “My smile had been gone for decades.”
She fortuitously found Give Back A Smile—an AACD program established in 1999 to connect survivors of domestic and sexual violence who have received dental injuries with cosmetic dentists who restore their smiles pro bono. Mercedes applied and was referred to Dr. Michael Fulbright, who donates his time to Give Back a Smile.
“I am so inspired by Mercedes because of her strength to overcome her challenges and her willingness to forgive and give back to women who may be subjected to the same abuse that she had to endure,” says Dr. Fulbright, who has practiced dentistry for nearly 20 years and operates Fulbright Cosmetic & Reconstructive Dentistry, a complete health practice in Redondo Beach.
Not only does Dr. Fulbright possess a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree, he also continued his education in advanced aesthetics and implant surgeries—enabling him to perform all aspects of full-mouth reconstruction. And that’s exactly what Mercedes needed.
She had suffered so much abuse over the years that she had few teeth left. The area was badly infected, and teeth needed to be extracted in order for her mouth to fully heal. The next step was to insert dental implants and provide Mercedes with implant-supported dentures.
“Over the course of the year that we worked on Mercedes, we started seeing an emotional transformation—a renewed sense of being,” says Molly Fulbright, managing partner of the practice. “For the first time since we’d met her, she began to smile and she had more self-esteem.”
Dr. Fulbright has worked with numerous Give Back a Smile patients throughout his career, and more than 1,800 people have received smile restorations through the program since its founding. “It’s both humbling and incredibly rewarding knowing that I can make such a difference for someone,” he shares. “I feel blessed to have met such a strong individual as Mercedes and to be able to make an impact in her life. Our tagline ‘Changing lives … one smile at a time’ is truly what keeps me motivated, knowing that I can help.”
Mercedes says that when she first saw her new teeth in the mirror, it took her breath away. “He captured something in me that was lost. I’m a different person today, and I’m so appreciative of Dr. Fulbright and Give Back A Smile,” she says. “I’m grateful to have met him and for the impact he’s made in my life. I feel so much better; my body is healing, and the pain is gone. I never hesitate to recommend Dr. Fulbright and his team to anyone who tells me how nice my smile is.”
Fulbright Cosmetic & Reconstructive Dentistry | 1815 Via El Prado, Redondo Beach | 310-316-4477 | fulbrightdental.com
Observing the winter landscape and wildlife while on a guided nature hike down the Discovery Trail to the Terranea Resort, parents and their children connected to the natural beauty of the peninsula’s coastline habitat restored by the Conservancy and used it as artistic inspiration for creating their own impressionist masterpieces at this event hosted by the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy and Art to Grow On, Inc.