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Health Talk 

Laura Kelly, president of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, discussed the professional and philanthropic work of the AACD when the organization was in town for its 24th annual scientific meeting recently. Kelly is the first woman and the first lab technician to be elected president of the group. Trained as a certified ceramist who sculpts prosthetics for dentistry patients, she now represents the work of thousands of AACD members, more than 50 of whome are in the New Orleans area. Beyond its role as an accrediting institute for cosmetic dentistry, the AACD oversees the Give Back a Smile program, which provides free dental care and reconstructive procedures to victims of domestic violence. It is estimated that 1 million to 3 million women are victims of intimate partner abuse each year, and Kelly is trying to get the word out about the program. There is a network in New Orleans where these women can get the services they need. For more information, visit www.givebackasmile.com or call (800) 773-4227.

Q: What does the AACD do?

A: We teach the different advancements in the field of cosmetic dentistry as well as performing hands-on training, and we offer accreditation in cosmetic dentistry. It means quite a bit to be a credentialed cosmetic dentist. ... It's a written exam as well as a presentation of cases to actually show what you can do. It's a really good way for the public to identify who's trained in cosmetic dentistry.

We have about 8,000 members in 70 countries. That includes AACD members as well as Give Back a Smile volunteers.

Q: What is the Give Back a Smile Program?

A: The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry started the program in 1999 to help survivors of domestic violence restore their teeth — absolutely free. It's really about helping give survivors their life back.

Q: What kind of dental work is needed as a result of domestic violence?

A: It really depends on what's happened. We've had situations, on the drastic side, with a gunshot wound to the face where we worked with plastic surgeons. We've partnered with Face to Face and the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. That can run up in the tens of thousands — 20-, 40-, 50-thousand dollars. But it's at no cost to the survivor.

Q: And the less severe side?

A: Domestic violence is also about control. So you have women who weren't allowed to see a dentist at all. We see neglect on top of broken or missing teeth from blows to the face.

Q: What do recipients get out of the program?

A: Survivors don't have to worry about any of the cost involved. We even raise money to help provide transportation if they're out in rural areas and can't easily get to a dentist or maybe don't have a car. ... We're really trying to help these people rebuild their lives. It's not only a physically damaging experience, it's, of course, emotional, too. They won't smile because they're very embarrassed. They have a hard time going out to interviews and getting into the work force and socializing and moving forward with healthy relationships. When you give them their smile back, its almost like their whole personality changes. It's not a constant reminder of the abuse when they look in the mirror anymore.

Q: How so?

A: We had one woman, her children always thought she was angry and mad. She never smiled, never laughed, never opened her mouth. She was afraid she was going to scare her children with her broken teeth. Once she had her smile rebuilt, she opened up and could laugh with her children. It's really important to smile and laugh.

Q: Is there any way dentists can spot abuse?

A: There are definitely warning signs of abuse. We actually have a training program. ... We especially educate the dentists and the staff. Not just in spotting it, but how to work with patients who are survivors. These patients are sensitive in the beginning. They're very withdrawn. It takes some psychological handholding to help them along. Afterwards, they're a completely different person. They have their confidence back.

Q: Have you personally worked on any of these cases?

A: I've done the lab work for the Give Back a Smile program. It's so rewarding. ... My daughter, who is 16, got pretty inspired by the program. She did two presentations at local high schools here about warning signs of abuse.

Q: How can women get help from the Give Back a Smile program?

A: They can contact us (www.givebackasmile.com or 800-773-4227) and we will send them the information they need to get started. One of the main criteria is that they have left (the abusive relationship), that they're out of harm's way.

If anybody knows anybody who needs our services, contact us. ... One in four women have been abused at some point in their lives. It's widespread but it's not always talked about.

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