The Gift of Grin

Nationwide foundation Give Back A Smile was started by local dentist Wynn Okuda.

Over lunch one day, Dr. Wynn Okuda listened as a co- worker of his told him about those she knew who were affected by domestic violence. As he listened to her talk about the injuries some were sustaining to their mouths, it got Okuda thinking—maybe there was a way to help these victims.

Okuda was, after all, a cosmetic dentist. He understood how difficult it might be for a domestic abuse victim to seek out proper care, let alone have the funds to undergo restorative procedures. Not only that, he also was acutely aware of how something like this could negatively a person’s self-esteem.

“When people have broken teeth in the front of their mouth, they’re not inclined to want to go back into society because everybody is asking them about it,” he says. “This kind of continues to perpetuate the negative parts of them.”

But perhaps even more profound, it stirred within him memories of his own childhood, one in which Okuda experienced domestic abuse firsthand. Slowly, as he heard from more people who knew of others in similar situations, an idea began to take shape.

“It really started to weigh on my mind as to how I could help,” he says. “I thought the best way to help is to just help these people out and to be able to provide them a free service … to provide a free service of cosmetic dentistry to help them be able to remove the physical scars of domestic violence, to be able to help them move forward.”

So Okuda began doing just that, helping those he could. Eventually, with encouragement from a friend, he presented the idea to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, and in May 27, 1999, Give Back A Smile launched.


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Dr. Wynn Okuda (center) with his rock band, the Matrix Band. They played at the Give Back A Smile event in Orlando in 2014, celebrating 15 years of the program (photo courtesy Dr. Wynn Okuda).

As a charitable foundation of AACD, Give Back A Smile is a nationwide effort that unites dentists and other dental professionals, who donate their time in returning the smiles to faces of domestic abuse victims—men and women. Annual fundraising activities ensure that those who are not near a dentist involved with the program may have travel and lodging accommodations. (Through Give Back A Smile, for example, Okuda has been able to treat neighbor island patients.)

“There’s no doubt I’m proud of it,” says Okuda. “It’s just that for me, what’s most important is seeing how many people are being helped.”

It’s true, too. He speaks readily of cases that come to mind with unmistakable warmth and detail.

One of the earliest cases he remembers is of a woman who emigrated from ? ailand with her three children. Her teeth were broken down as a result of domestic violence and after meeting with her, Okuda learned that she worked as a janitor at night to support her family.

“I said, ‘Why do you work at night?’” Okuda recalls. “She said, ‘Because I try to have it where the least number of people see me because of [my] broken teeth.’”

Her true passion was in culinary arts, and after Okuda and his team restored her teeth, she was able to pursue that goal.

In another story, Okuda tells of a woman he began working with last year—an all-around positive woman, says Okuda, whose confidence was shaken because of damage to her teeth during an abusive relationship. Two days before Christmas (which also happened to be her birthday), Okuda ? xed her front teeth.

“She said, ‘This was the best birthday and Christmas gift I have ever received,’” says Okuda.

For more information and to donate to Give Back A Smile, visit

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