KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) -- One out of every four: According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, that's how many American women have suffered severe violence from the hands of an intimate partner.
That's 12 million victims a year whose physical and emotional scars run deep. And while this might surprise you, the experts who can often go a long way in helping them heal are dentists, including one Knoxville dentist who's making a difference.
Below are excerpts from letters from women Dr. Smita Borole has helped as they try to get back on their feet:
"I had all my teeth knocked out by an abusive boyfriend last time I saw him. That affected my ability to eat, to smile, and my confidence."
"I have not been able to afford dental care for many years. I have advanced dental carries, multiple broke and crooked teeth, causing bad breath."
The womens' situations are still too vulnerable to reveal their faces or voices on camera.
"We see women that have been through a lot in life," said Dr. Borole.
Borole leads a new program called Smiles for Hope. Its mission: to provide free dental care to women in the YWCA's transitional housing program.
"A lot of them come from domestic violence situations," Borole says. "They have had abusive relationships, whether it be parental abuse or spousal abuse or through a boyfriend."
Right now, Smiles for Hope holds clinic hours one Saturday a month at the Volunteer Ministry Center in downtown Knoxville. Dr. Borole is hoping that the program will soon expand beyond that. Her vision for the near-term is to hold two clinics per month, and to offer Smiles for Hope to all women and children in East Tennessee who need help as they start a new life.Related: East Tennessee organizations help domestic violence victims become survivors
"For these women to be able to smile with confidence, to get that self-esteem back, you know, it makes a big, big, big difference," says Borole.
Smiles for Hope began in April and since then has helped 80 women. One story that stands out? A woman who needed a front tooth replaced before a job interview.
Borole remembers, "She went for the job interview on Tuesday, got that job, came back and could not stop thanking us."
That's the only payoff people on Smiles for Hope's all-volunteer staff say they need. It's a team that includes Borole's 17-year-old daughter, Ruchi, who conducts post-treatment interviews.
"I think it's amazing to hear their stories and see how much, like, how far they've come," says Ruchi Borole. "They're wanting to change their life, and I think that's really great to see that for a person my age right now: that you can come back from anything."
Dr. Borole first saw the need for Smiles for Hope about two years ago, when she began handling emergency dental care for the YWCA. Right now, she's working with the UT Legal Clinic to make Smiles for Hope an official nonprofit charity, and says that process should be complete in less than a year.
To volunteer, learn more about the program, or give financial support, visit http://smilesforhopetn.com/
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