Time to Smile
BY Jeffrey Hartinger
July 06 2011 5:58 PM ET
Things are finally starting to turn around for Mark Morris. He never had a perfect life, but after decades of domestic violence, prostitution, homelessness, and becoming HIV-positive, Morris is now, at 46, at a point where he can approach the obstacles that come into his life with courage, strength, support, and finally, a smile.
As a result of an abusive 20-year relationship, Morris needed cosmetic and dental surgery; scars covered his face, his nose was crooked and jagged after having his face kicked in, and his teeth seemed to be beyond repair. After searching the Internet for resources for domestic violence survivors in Southern California, he did not find many leads or inspiration until he came across the nonprofit group Give Back a Smile, which helps connect those in need with philanthropically minded dentists.
Michael Fulbright, DDS, a Redondo Beach, Calif.–based dentist, has many pro bono cases under his belt. He learned about Morris through this organization and decided to donate his time and resources to help reconstruct his smile. He will be working with his team to give Morris back his lost teeth and replace broken-down fillings in hopes of raising his confidence and self-esteem.
“It was my hope that I could take my skills at being a cosmetic dentist and apply those to people in need while giving back to the community,” said Fulbright, “and by volunteering for this program, I am healing the effects of domestic violence by providing free consultation and dental treatment to restore the smiles of survivors of domestic violence.”
For Morris, however, there was a long and painful journey before he crossed paths with the dentist who would change his life. Morris fled his conservative home in Minnesota at age 15 and settled in Key West, Fla. Shortly thereafter, he contracted HIV. With no income or place to stay, he resorted to prostitution. During this time, he formed a relationship with a man named Pierre, a drag queen and fellow prostitute whom he dated for almost a year. While the relationship was not abusive, Morris began to experience abuse on the streets as a sex worker.