Skip to main content
CNN.com
Search
Home World U.S. Weather Business Sports Analysis Politics Law Tech Science Health Entertainment Offbeat Travel Education Specials Autos I-Reports
Health News

Volunteer dentists restore smiles to abuse survivors

Story Highlights

• Program provides free dental work to domestic violence survivors
• American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry matches patients, volunteer dentists
• 500 have been helped so far
By Judy Fortin
CNN
Adjust font size:
Decrease fontDecrease font
Enlarge fontEnlarge font

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Susan Kauffman can't stop smiling. Not only does she have a perfect set of teeth, but after enduring physical abuse repeatedly in her life, she also has renewed self-esteem. "I had a broken spirit," Kauffman said. "I became very isolated ... and became a recluse."

Kauffman, 62, grew up poor. She said she didn't own a toothbrush until she was 10. Abuse in the intervening years made the problems with her teeth much worse, she said. Unable to afford dental care, she learned to hide broken teeth and gum disease. "I was an expert," Kauffman said. "I could talk, I could laugh, I could eat and chew and you wouldn't know I had bad teeth."

Life changed dramatically for Kauffman about a year and a half ago when she learned about a program called Give Back a Smile. Founded in 1999 by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, the nonprofit group matches domestic violence survivors with dentists who volunteer their services. (Health Minute: Watch more on the Give Back a Smile program Video )

"These individuals really need somebody to take care of their oral health and give them a boost of energy and self-confidence. I wanted to help," said Dr. Sam Sadati, of Wellington, Florida, the dentist who performed the work on Kauffman. He's one of more than 800 dental professionals around the country who've taken part in the program.

To date, 500 applicants have been treated in the United States. They are carefully screened and a counselor or social worker must confirm that the injuries were caused by domestic violence. That's sometimes done through checking police reports or restraining orders.

Kauffman was very timid and nervous during her first appointment, Sadati said. "She was abused and hit many times and she had many different dental problems that we had to take care of," he said. "She had multiple teeth that couldn't be saved and those that she had...needed a root canal, crowns or a bridge. Her bite was collapsed and not right."

Sadati said the work took six months and cost nearly $40,000. Kauffman didn't have to pay a penny. "All of that money -- there is no way I could have afforded this," said Kauffman. She said the day Sadati agreed to take her case was the happiest of her life. "I was in crisis," Kauffman said. "I thought the only hope for me was to have all of them pulled and have dentures."

Kauffman admitted being terrified while sitting in the dental chair, but her fears subsided as she started to see the initial results. "I remember my reaction with the temporaries. I thought these were fine -- these were perfect. I don't need anything else, I'm never coming back, and he [Sadati] said, no, we're not done, these are temporaries."

Sadati said Kauffman's reaction made him feel good about his own contributions. "She was very happy," he said. "I could see the happiness in her eyes and her smile, obviously."

When the work was finished, a dental assistant handed Kauffman a mirror. "I was overjoyed," Kauffman said with a smile. "I feel beautiful. It's given me my self-esteem, my self-worth. It's given me my life."

Judy Fortin is a correspondent with CNN Medical News.


story2.give.smile.jpg

Episodes of physical abuse during Susan Kauffman's life left her with broken teeth and numerous other dental problems.

HEALTH LIBRARY

In association with MayoClinic.com

HEALTH VIDEO LIBRARY

In association with Healthology.com
  • Healthology
  • GIVE BACK A SMILE

    For more information on Give Back A Smile, call the national hot line at 1-800-773-GBAS (4227).
  • Give Back a Smileexternal link
  • Advertisement
    International Edition
    CNN TV CNN International Headline News Transcripts Advertise with Us About Us Contact Us
    Search
    © 2007 Cable News Network.
    A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
    Terms under which this service is provided to you.
    Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
    SERVICES » E-mails RSSRSS Feed PodcastsRadio News Icon CNNtoGo CNN Pipeline
    Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by CNN.com
    Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more