U of M alumnus Mickey Bernstein sends victims of domestic abuse away with a better
outlook on life.
By Sara Hoover
Sixty-one-year-old Memphis native Dr. Mickey Bernstein (BS ’71) is in the “happiness
An accredited member and immediate past president of the American Academy of Cosmetic
Dentistry, Bernstein volunteers with the Academy’s Give Back A Smile program that
provides free cosmetic dentistry to victims of domestic violence.
“We’re in the ‘changing lives business.’ It’s not just about fixing teeth and fixing
smiles,” says Bernstein.
In 1975, he started Germantown Dental Group that focuses on family and restorative
care and cosmetic dentistry, and has volunteered with Give Back A Smile since 1999.
“Seventy-five percent of all battering occurs to the head and face, resulting in a
lot of damaged teeth due to domestic violence,” says Lisa Fitch, foundation program
manager for Give Back A Smile. “Bruises and scars fade but damaged teeth cannot repair
themselves. Give Back A Smile restores the smiles of survivors of domestic violence,
which can give them a sense of closure, an increase in self-esteem and confidence
to re-enter the work force.”
|Bernstein gives his presidential address at the 25th anniversary of the American Academy
of Cosmetic Dentistry.
Administered by the Academy’s Charitable Foundation, Give Back A Smile has completed
700 cases and provided $6 million in services since its inception 10 years ago.
“When they can’t smile, they can’t get a job,” says Bernstein of his patients. “They
can’t interact with the public very well. They can’t feed their children. This program
helps that one piece of the puzzle of their life get back together.”
Bernstein has also done fundraisers for the past two years, raising more than $12,000
for the program.
Although men make up less than 1 percent of Give Back A Smile cases, Bernstein’s most
recent patient is a 62-year-old man, Jay Lester.
“The gentleman was in a relationship with a lady who was on drugs,” says Bernstein.
“He wouldn’t give her any more money for drugs. She threw a coffee cup at him and
broke his teeth. She was later murdered by a drug pusher she owed money to.”
Lester’s work included periodontal scaling, teeth extraction, bonding and a bridge,
which took nine months to complete.
“It’s a process that takes a while, but it makes you feel better,” says Lester. “Your
self-esteem is improved. Just knowing that you’re going to have a better appearance
makes you feel better.”
Started by Dr. Wynn Okuda, the mission of the program is “to restore a life by restoring
“I had needed some extensive dental work and I couldn’t afford it,” says Lester. “Dr.
Bernstein and his staff have been absolutely wonderful. They’ve done a terrific job.”
A Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry, Bernstein also has an interest in helping
people with eating disorders.
|Give Back a Smile patient Jay Lester with Bernstein after Lester's final procedure.
“People who are still bulimic oftentimes show up at the cosmetic dentist and want
their teeth restored because they’re eroding the enamel away and it doesn’t look good,”
says Bernstein. “People who have the disorder are very good at lying. Their family
doesn’t know it quite often. Their spouse doesn’t know it. But I know it. I can see
the evidence in their mouth.”
Wanting to educate fellow dentists, Bernstein teaches several classes, including one
on the psychology of cosmetic dentistry with a clinical psychologist.
Angela Andrews, a dental hygienist, first met Bernstein as a young patient and then
worked in his office during high school. Now 23 and a full-time employee of his, Andrews
can’t imagine working anywhere else.
“He has a very large heart. I’ve gotten to know him on a very personal level since
I’ve been here for so long. He’s got this deep, settled voice that’s comforting. He’s
very easy to work for and has a great attitude all the time.”
Born in Memphis, Bernstein has fond memories of his days as a biology major at then-Memphis
State University, going to music concerts and football games. He also remembers a
“I took a black-and-white photography course in ’69. There was a protest with the
Black Student Association doing a sit-in at the Administration (Building). They were
guided out of the building, into the bus and taken to jail. I documented it. I just
had my camera and was on campus.”
Married for 18 years to his wife, Diane, Bernstein keeps busy with seven children
and nine grandchildren. He’s also a retired marathoner and exercise junkie.
Christina Ballard, patient coordinator for the past three years, admires her boss:
“He loves what he does, just loves it. He’s such a giver. I could call him in the
middle of the night and say, ‘I really need to borrow your truck’ and he would say,
‘I’m on my way over.’ He’s kind of like the big grandpa you never had.”
Bernstein seems to leave a trail of smiles wherever he goes.