Local woman receives new smile and a new take on life
Prior to this year, Alisa Rose can’t remember the last time she smiled. She distinctly remembers not smiling at her nursing school graduation in 2001. As proud as she was of her accomplishment, Alisa was too ashamed of her smile. “I had felt that way for many years,” she says, “at least since 2001. As time passed and I lost more of my smile, the worse I felt about myself.”
Alisa had missing and broken teeth. “I always covered my mouth when I talked or held a paper in front of my face,” she says. “I walked with my head down, I talked with my head down.”
As a nurse, Alisa understood that health complications can arise from poor dental health, but this knowledge waged war not only with her finances but with a crippling fear of dental work. “I couldn’t begin to pay for everything that needed to be done,” she says. Dental insurance wouldn’t cover the needed work; braces couldn’t correct the problem.
Alisa remembers how it was hard on her parents to have their teeth pulled and replaced with dentures. And in her twenties, Alisa had a coworker who went into cardiac arrest during a dental procedure. “After that,” she explains, “I was terrified to step foot into a dentist’s office.”
Although she knew there would come a time when she absolutely had to see a dentist, Alisa kept putting that time off. She used any extra money to help family members and others. “I didn’t consider myself a priority,” she admits.
Last year, she overheard her six-year old niece say, “Daddy, I’ve never seen my auntie smile.” Heartbroken, Alisa still couldn’t bring herself to smile. “The shame associated with my teeth was so difficult,” she says. “It has held me back in so many ways.” Alisa let her dreams of buying a home and adopting a child fall by the wayside. What child would want her for a mother with a smile like hers?
When Alisa’s dental problems reached a point at which she could eat only certain foods, she assumed the problems couldn’t be fixed. “I had dealt with my teeth for so long, I had honestly just given up,” she explains.”
Then along came Dr. Mark Duncan and Dr. Mandy Holley of Aesthetic Dentistry. They wanted to give back to the community. “We know the need is out there,” Dr. Holley says. “We’ve been blessed with great patients and a great team, and we wanted to find a way to pay it forward.” They decided the best way to do so was to apply their skillset to help someone trapped by their smile.
“The smile is so many things,” Dr. Duncan explains. “It’s the window to the soul and a powerful connection to others. If you can’t use your smile, it affects every part of who you are and how people see you.”
Alisa knew that people often thought she was mean or angry because she didn’t smile. “But that is the farthest thing from the truth. I love people,” she says. “I love to serve them, but how do you do that without smiling?”
Alisa began to pray for change in her life. She specifically prayed for a house, but, she says, “God gave me so much more.”
Drs. Duncan and Holley reached out to people in the community and friends at Celebration Church, which is how they connected with Alisa. “Our hope was that the person we helped would then find a way to have a positive and powerful impact on someone else and start a chain reaction of helping other people in the community,” says Dr. Duncan. Both doctors believed they’d found that person in Alisa, but she took some convincing.
Alisa wasn’t sure she even had the courage to keep the initial appointment, despite her belief that God was trying to show her something.
“When we got a chance to meet face to face, it was a terribly difficult thing for her to let us see [her teeth],” Dr. Duncan says. “It’s like having to bare the most intimate and hated part of yourself to the world.”
The first few visits between doctors and patient were as much about building trust and hope as they were about building a plan. One of the conditions for Alisa’s treatments was that she had to stop smoking. Alisa had smoked for many years but wanted to quit. “This was the push I needed,” she says. “They were giving me this beautiful gift of a smile, and I wanted to do everything I could on my end to help.”
Smoking her last cigarette and quitting cold turkey was among the hardest things she’s ever done, but Alisa’s faith helped her remain strong. “Fear no longer controls my life,” she says. “It will no longer hold me back. God is right here with me.”
With each step toward a new smile, Alisa took a step outside of her shell. “I’ve started leading two small groups at church. I’m not afraid to laugh,” she says. She also bought a house, and the next step is to adopt a child: “I’ve felt this was something I was supposed to do for the past few years. Of course, I gave many reasons why I couldn’t. Now everything has changed.”
Alisa credits the change to being willing to smile for the first time in years—a change that makes her feel lively and confident. She’s even taken to wearing lipstick again and has heard people call her smile pretty. “It still blows my mind when I hear that!” she says. “Who are they talking to? Then I realize—they’re talking to me.”
According to Dr. Holley, the experience of helping Alisa was more than he and Dr. Duncan could have hoped for. “We love seeing her face light up and see the appreciation in her eyes,” says Dr. Holley. “This is why we do what we do!” She and Dr. Duncan plan to help at least one person a year from now on because they know how a smile to change people’s lives.
Recently, Alisa had a new set of pictures taken similar for her dental record. “It was a totally different experience,” she says. “The first day I sat there and cried, humiliated and ashamed, as they took pictures. This time there was no shame, no humiliation. Such a huge difference!”
Alisa admits smiling still doesn’t come naturally to her, but she’s working a signature smile: “I don’t know what mine is yet, but I keep practicing. I want people to see the joy I feel on the inside when I smile.”
Aesthetic Dentistry wants to thank Aurum Ceramic for all its help in creating Alisa’s new smile.