Empathy, kindness and optimism

Dr Shanash Bishnulall is making a difference with Healing Smiles, both as a treating dentist and behind-the-scenes.


Healing Smiles

Dr Shanash Bishnulall began volunteering with Healing Smiles in 2020. After initially volunteering as a treating dentist (providing mostly surgical or multiple extractions), she became interested in the non-clinical behind-the-scenes happenings and joined the Committee with Drs Jacinta Vu, Tracey Gold and Lida Sayadelmi.

“I had experience volunteering with many other wonderful organisations, but the goals and values of Healing Smiles, and the amazing Committee members are close to my heart,” Shanash says. “My continued ability to treat Healing Smiles patients pro-bono is largely due (with huge thanks!) to my colleague and the owner of Claremont Dental, Dr Dominic Etheridge.”

It was actually through volunteering with Healing Smiles that Shanash was offered her position at Claremont Dental. “I was performing a surgical extraction for a Healing Smiles patient at his wife Dr Kate Etheridge’s practice, as I was able to do the procedure but did not have a clinic to do so. I mentioned to her I was looking for a new position, and she mentioned Dom was looking for someone with my skills – the rest is history!”

Shanash says volunteering with Healing Smiles has been eye-opening. “Having these patients come to me with such trust and hope despite their experiences in the past, is incredibly humbling,” she explains. “Many I see only once for relief of pain or on an emergency basis, but I try my best to create as much positivity in their experience with me as possible and focus on the future of rebuilding their smile.

“Volunteering for Healing Smiles has been extremely rewarding but can also be challenging,” she adds. “Meeting and treating women who share their stories of emotional and physical trauma can be difficult. This is particularly so when I provide treatment to address damage that has occurred to the mouth such as extracting broken teeth. I remember clearly that when explained to a patient that there was no other option except removal for a heavily damaged tooth, she broke down crying and told me she felt like she was letting her abuser win. Volunteering with Healing Smiles is not only about providing dental treatment, but also empathy, kindness and optimism.”

Shanash says it is always humbling how grateful patients are for not only the treatment provided, but the fact that there are people out there cheering for them and their successes, to help them move forward and live in dignity without pain and shame of their dental health.

Each patient also brings a new experience. “I try to connect with each one as much as possible in the time we have and help them understand the support that is available for them,” she says.

As well as volunteering for Healing Smiles, Shanash also volunteered at the recent Dental Rescue Day at OHCWA. “The Dental Rescue Day was a brilliant experience all around, and the day was organised thanks to Dr Tracey Gold,” Shanash says. “It was a positive atmosphere being together with the other volunteers and meeting such a range of people. My area of interest is surgical extractions, and it was a highlight to be able to guide some of the new graduates on techniques I routinely use.

“The most rewarding aspect of volunteerism is the overall gratitude and respect I’ve gained for the culture of volunteerism we have here in WA, and the community spirit in taking care of one another, especially those less fortunate,” Shanash adds. “I truly believe in paying it forward and have seen firsthand how small acts of kindness help propel people forward to do the same for others.”

To other dentists thinking about volunteering, Shanash says don’t think twice – and to go for it. “We are so fortunate to live in Australia, and as dentists to have a niche set of highly valued skills, that are so underserviced in many vulnerable communities,” she says. “If you are able to volunteer in any capacity, there is no effort too big or small.”

For more details about volunteering with Healing Smiles, please email healingsmileswa@gmail.com

Healing smiles

Written K Sloper

Healing smiles that tragedy took,

Creating happiness that others forsook.

The wonder of helping another heal,

From sadness and hate that made them reel.

The work of healing from the anger of abuse,

Takes a lifetime of steps with times of recluse.

So who can be hero and help the sad find.

The smile they thought was long left behind.

This is one part on a long journey to peace,

An important step to give sadness release.

The smile that you heal can help us feel whole,

Give some measure of joy that an abuser stole.

Thank you for healing the smile of the sad.

Thank you for restoring and helping others feel glad.

*Kerri Sloper is a survivor of abuse and the author of The White Canvas (a poetry picture book to help survivors) which is available on Amazon.
Photo courtesy of The Jam Jar Ad Agency

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