Dr. Randy Mitchmore Gives Back Much More Than Just Smiles To Victims Of Domestic Abuse
Dr. Randy Mitchmore was the first one in his family to attend college. Touring his luxurious LifeSmiles dental office at 1722 W. Alabama — complete with a tranquil in-ground pool and lush landscaping — it’s hard to imagine Mitchmore bussing tables in his college cafeteria to help pay for school. From cleaning up after “rich” kids, to living in a concrete dormitory without air conditioning in the back of a VA hospital, Mitchmore’s humble beginnings are part of what helped shape his unlikely path to a 36-year-and-counting career in dentistry, as well as his strong desire to be of service to others.
“I didn’t always want to be a dentist,” says Mitchmore. “I wanted to become a Methodist minister. It took me a while to figure out that I was doing it for the wrong reasons. It wasn’t a great fit.”
How did dentistry enter his realm of possibilities? All it took was a fateful conversation with a college roommate one afternoon.
“We were talking about what we wanted to be when we grew up,” says Mitchmore. “He said, ‘I don’t want to be a physician like my father, that’s a horrible lifestyle.’ I said, ‘Well, I have a distant uncle who is a dentist and seems pretty happy. Why don’t we become dentists?’ So we did. We both switched majors, graduated early and went to dental school.”
This seemingly impulsive decision has served Mitchmore for almost 40 years, but in a profound way, it’s also served victims of domestic violence. Mitchmore works closely with a charitable program called Give Back A Smile sponsored by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. By volunteering, Mitchmore isn’t just helping with fundraisers and simple administrative tasks; he literally helps repair the teeth and smiles of those affected by intimate partner violence.
“The dental work through the program is all done for free,” says Mitchmore. “It started out as a nationwide program that is now global. I thought it was a great humanitarian cause that I wanted to be a part of. I signed up to be a volunteer dentist for it since my everyday work is restoring smiles. It’s a natural fit for utilizing my natural gifts and talents.”
As Mitchmore was helping people regain their smiles and confidence through the program, he was completely unaware his own sister was suffering silently through her own experience with domestic abuse.
“Little did I know how close to home it would hit,” says Mitchmore. “It crosses all socio-economic lines. In my sister’s case, she was an attractive, wealthy woman with three perfect kids, a nice house with two cars in the garage. I had no idea what was happening to her behind closed doors, and unfortunately, it ended up with her suicide. It really got my attention to how pervasive the problem really is; to the point I call it ‘America’s dirty little secret.’”
Mitchmore explains that most victims are embarrassed to reveal their circumstances to others for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they feel as if the abuse they’ve endured is somehow their fault, or fear the repercussions of their partner finding out. It’s a cycle that usually begins with an abusive incident, leads to remorse on the part of the abuser and culminates in a “honeymoon” period where the abuser promises that it will never happen again. Next, as Mitchmore explains, “Life goes on and some stressful event begins the cycle all over again.”
“In retrospect, I can look back on some behaviors my sister had that I didn’t recognize,” says Mitchmore. “The obvious signs are things like bruising, or wearing long-sleeve shirts in the summertime, staying covered up, etc., but not all abuse is physical. There can be emotional abuse, financial abuse, or controlling issues. A person may have a damaged smile — maybe they didn’t have an injury to their face — but they were so controlled they weren’t allowed to go to the dentist.”
Patients of the Give Back A Smile program have to meet several requirements before approval, most of which are in place to stop this very cycle. Applicants must have damage to their smile, and proof it was caused by abuse and not self-neglect; they must have been out of the abusive relationship for a minimum of one year; and they must have attended some type of counseling.
“The interesting thing is that broken bones and injuries will heal over time, but a broken tooth won’t,” says Mitchmore. “There was a woman that I helped through the program that had a broken tooth. For her, every time she looked in the mirror, it brought back all these memories of how it happened. She carried that with her for 12 years. When we finally fixed her tooth, she told us, ‘I can finally move on from that chapter in my life.’”
People like her prove Dr. Mitchmore is giving back far more than smiles, but with one in four American women affected in some way by domestic violence, there’s still plenty of work to be done.
“It’s an issue that’s really in the closet,” says Mitchmore. “You’d be surprised how many people — when you start talking about it — will tell you their own story. It’s surprising how many are out there. They’ve been touched somehow or will be in their lifetime.”