In a country where 27% of women report they have suffered physical or mental abuse, volunteer dentists, part of a private network of dental professionals known as Apalonias do Bem (the name comes from Saint Apollonia, the patron saint of dentists), are giving new hope to women through pro bono dental work.
The program, similar in scope to the Australian Dental Health Foundation’s Rebuilding Smiles program, which offers free treatment to victims of domestic violence who may have been subject to dental trauma or neglect, is a critically important one in a country where, according to Yahoo! News, “men target the women’s faces and teeth, in order to diminish their femininity and feelings of self-worth.”
One survivor of these types of assaults is Ana Claudia Rocha Ferreira who suffered abuse over many years from a succession of partners, leaving her with only four front teeth and a resulting reluctance to go out in public.
“Since I was 18 until now, I have not smiled. I was constantly mortified.”
With a number of children to look after, the young mother simply didn’t have the funds to rectify the damage which is the result she says of a mentality where “men say they like to beat up their woman so no one else wants her. They leave their mark on her face.”
Now away from her abusers – a condition of any treatment by the volunteer dentist network (founded in 2012 by Dr Fabio Bibancos) is that the recipient of any work must not be living with their abuser – Rocha’s life has been turned around by the work of Rio de Janeiro dentist Dr Armando Piva.
She now holds a job at a graphic design firm and refers to Dr Piva as her “angel”, so transformative has his work been on her life.
The program has proved to be such a success that its reach now extends to Portugal and 12 other Latin American countries with 1700 dentists now active in the network.