Female dentists unite to provide free treatment for victims of domestic violence

Posted on 25th February 2020

Dr Zara Torre, Dr Jacinta Vu, Dr Gosia Barley

Women in Dentistry is a non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting female dentists and the wider Western Australian community – however it is their clinical volunteering program, Healing Smiles, that is the best example of women supporting other women. On International Women’s Day, the Australian Dental Association of WA wants to celebrate these West Australian dentists.

About Healing Smiles
Healing Smiles is a program whereby volunteer dentists give up their time to treat victims of domestic violence, free of charge.

“We started as a group of specialists talking about how we could give back to the dental community and the community at large – and it snowballed from there,” Women in Dentistry president, Dr Jacinta Vu, says.

Dr Zara Torre says Healing Smiles started as a clinical volunteering program as part of Women in Dentistry, providing a unique solution to the issue of domestic violence in Australia.

“Our patients are our motivation,” she says. “Women experiencing domestic violence in Australia are unfortunately not as anomalous as we would hope, with statistics showing that one in six women will experience physical or sexual assault before the age of 16.

“We work in concert with refuge agencies such as Starrick, Wren and Zonta House Refuge Association to provide support to these women, and multi-disciplinary care.

“We have a team of committed specialists from periodontists such as Jane McCarthy, to orthodontists such as Gosia Barley, and general dentists. Our dentists and specialists benefit from providing this treatment in a safe, secure and female-centred way, which allows our group to truly provide a level of holistic care, which is a viable and comprehensive alternative to any state-sponsored emergency or ‘band-aid’ approach.

“As a result, we are confident that these women are truly shown that they are worthy of something better, something complete and it is a privilege to be able to sow into their lives in such a life-affirming way.”

Dr Gosia Barley says in developing the concept of Healing Smiles, it was a clear vision of the ability to join the needs of the community within WA with the skills and resources of their clinical team. “Positive discussions and collaborations with ADAWA, the Australian Dental Health Foundation and the School of Dentistry all assisted in formulating a framework, procedures and protocols that would assist in creating a ‘sustainable volunteering program’ for our community in Perth and our volunteers,” she says.

“Not only is there such positivity in giving back to the community, there is a great deal of benefit in dental education and interdisciplinary treatment through being a part of the program. Volunteers are supported by the greater clinical team, whether it be with resources, support staff or specialist advice or care. Regular meetings further develop clinicians’ knowledge on complex dental treatment plans as well as further training on the challenges of treating patients who have experienced domestic violence. To return a patient to function and aesthetics, for many has meant a return of their dignity and confidence that has assisted in their ability to move forward.”

Feedback from patients (anonymous for their protection)
“I appreciate everything your team has done for me! It has made my life a lot happier with loads of smiles. I can’t even start to tell you how it has also improved my confidence. So, a huge thank you to all involved.”

“All of the dentists I saw were very kind, welcoming, compassionate, caring and very friendly. Overall, I had an extremely positive experience and I want to thank you all for supporting me, it’s made a huge difference to my life and it’s one less thing I have to worry about.”

Domestic violence statistics
(Statistics sourced from WA 2019 Women’s Report Card):

In 2016, one in five Western Australian women reported experiencing partner violence since the age of 15.

A woman’s risk of family and domestic violence is significantly higher than that of a man. Of those women in WA who experienced violence by a partner, 34.4% noted that this violence occurred during pregnancy.

For women experiencing partner violence in WA, 19.3% reported that such violence occurred “all of the time”.

Intimate partners continue to be the main perpetrators (78%), although there has been a notable increase in the share involving other family members, which rose from 12% in 2003 to almost 20% in 2018.

About Women in Dentistry
Women in Dentistry is a non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting female dentists and the wider West Australian community. The society aims to promote mentorship and collegiality through regular dinner meetings which combine formal professional development with genuine mentorship and friendship.

About the Australian Dental Association of Western Australia
In Western Australia, ADAWA is regarded as the recognised voice of dentistry. With around 92% of registered dentists and dental specialists across the private and public sectors as members, the Association provides a most effective representative body.

ADAWA strives to promote the art and science of dentistry, to represent the profession and to provide services which promote the highest level of oral health in the community.