April Humes says her teeth were breaking off at the gum line when she arrived at a Lexington domestic violence shelter last year — the result of not being able to go to the dentist while in an abusive marriage.
Some customers at her fast food job made fun of the way she looked, Humes said, compounding her stress as she was trying to seek safety and begin a new life.
"I would cry because of being made fun of and people staring at me," she said.
Humes was given an opportunity to change her smile because of an annual fund-raiser held by a University of Kentucky student dental group.
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A fashion show and brunch will be held Saturday to raise money for Smiles for Life, a fund-raiser by the American Association of Women Dentists at the UK College of Dentistry. The organization has donated $50,000 in the last five years — about $10,000 each year — to help victims of domestic violence across the Bluegrass, said its president, UK dental student Ashley Betz.
The money is given to the Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program, which pays for the care that UK dental school students provide in their clinic, said Darlene Thomas, executive director of the program.
Over the past five years, the injuries treated have been caused by "being punched in the mouth, kicked in the mouth, one lady was hit with an object in her mouth, where teeth were broken or cracked," said Thomas.
Another woman currently living at the Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program shelter is having dental work because her jaw was broken by an abuser, Thomas said.
People who receive services from the Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program and their children are eligible for the dental care. Thomas said so far this year, $7,000 of the donations have been spent on people who have mouth injuries due to domestic violence or who suffer from medical neglect.
After obtaining a domestic violence protection order in court, Humes said she went directly to the shelter where she lived from January through July 2011 and began dental treatments.
"I had several breaking off at the gum line in the front of my mouth and a few on the bottom," said Humes.
Humes is living on her own now, but is still receiving dental care at the UK clinic with proceeds from the fund-raiser.
"They have extracted all of my top teeth," she said. She is wearing dentures on the top and is undergoing procedures to repair her bottom teeth.
"It's given me my life back," said Humes. "I'm able to smile ... I'm able to laugh again. I've had people tell me, 'You've got a beautiful smile.' "
Betz said that a patient she is working with now — a woman who Thomas said is currently living at the shelter — had part of her jaw broken by her abuser and was having difficulty wearing dentures.
"She had had a previous set of dentures, but her abuser wouldn't let her wear them. He took them from her and broke her jaw," said Betz.
"So we got her jaw fixed and made her a new pair of dentures," she said.
"She said she loves them," said Betz. "She wears them all the time."