Dr. Jim Arnold Gives Back a Smile

(This article was published in the Times Newspaper in 2008.)

A smile just isn’t a smile for Carmen.

The longtime resident of Porter County suffered severe dental damage nine years ago as the result of domestic violence.

But through a nonprofit program, one local dentist was able to not only give her back her smile, but also helped to restore her confidence.

A reason to smile

For Jim Arnold, being a dentist is not just a job — it’s also about giving back to the community.  Dr. Arnold, a Valparaiso native and member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, knows there is more to life than going to work and making money.

“My parents kind of instilled in me when I was a kid that I should give something back,” Arnold said.  “At different times in my life I’ve been able to give different things.”

In the past Arnold has run a free clinic at Hilltop House, but most recently the AACD has provided another way to connect with the community through its Give Back a Smile program, bringing dental professionals and victims of domestic violence together to repair damage to teeth resulting from abuse.

It was through this program that Arnold and Carmen, who requested that her last name be withheld, met and began a process with a life-changing impact.

Carmen, a longtime resident of Porter County and model in her youth, suffered severe dental damage as a result of being kicked in the face and chest with steel-toed boots nine years ago.  There were few willing to help at the time.

“Nobody wants to get involved,” Carmen explained. “Our society doesn’t help out people — it’s not like it used to be.”

Fortunately, some were willing to step up.  The Caring Place, a local women’s shelter, analyzed her case and provided her name to the Give Back a Smile program. Soon, she got a telephone call from Arnold.

Consultations revealed the extent of the damage, and Arnold decided to give Carmen more than her smile back.

“Fixing two or three teeth wasn’t going to change her life,” Arnold said.  “It was such a cool opportunity to change her life in a significant way.”

Arnold and his colleagues formed a comprehensive treatment plan.  Gums would need to be repaired and teeth replaced.  Temporary restorations would have to be made and tested before the final product could be ready.
The experience was a challenging one for Carmen, who used to have a fear of dentists.  But Arnold put her mind at ease.

“It was a very gentle, very compassionate, relaxing atmosphere,” Carmen said.

After hours on end in Arnold’s chair, she finally received her permanent restorations in November last year.  She could hardly have predicted the results.

“People judge you by your appearances,” Carmen said.  She rarely smiled before, but soon she was stunning family and friends with beautiful new teeth indistinguishable from the real thing.

“You can fix the external really fast, but it’s hard to fix the inside very quickly,” she said.

She is still adjusting, but she no longer has to worry about laughing, smiling or speaking — she can show her teeth again.
Carmen calls her restorations “my new Chryslers.”  The $37,000 procedure, which Arnold provided free of charge, is the first he has done for the Give Back a Smile program, but will not be the last.

“The more you have, the more you have to give,” Arnold said.  “I’ve been tremendously blessed in life.  I have a wonderful family.”

He wants to set a good example for his four children and for society.

Arnold has also been to India twice to help educate Indian dentists and has created the Smiles by Arnold Foundation, which provides assistance to high school students and children’s organizations.  He has done other charitable and discounted work as well.

“There’s a lot of need out there,” he said.  Arnold plans to hold a benefit this spring for several women’s shelters, and Carmen will be a speaker at the event.

“I feel so good, and I’m trying to pay it forward,” she said. “I want to touch as many lives as possible.”

She wants to appear on Oprah to draw attention to the dangers of domestic violence, and she wants to create a Web site that will provide support and help for victims of abuse while providing the anonymity of the Internet.

“I’m so blessed,” Carmen said. “I’m forever grateful.”

“We have a social responsibility to do something,” Arnold said.  “I’ve tried to surround myself with people who feel the same way.”

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