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Cardi B's Dentist Dr. Catrise Austin Built An Empire Transforming Celebrity Smiles

BOSS UP

Ever since Cardi B told the world on her infamous song "Bodak Yellow" that she "got a bag and fixed her teeth," Dr. Catrise Austin, the dentist behind her smile transformation, has seen her business quadruple. However, Dr. Austin's business was already booming. Long before the millennial superstar shouted her out on her breakout record -- and before social media made "getting your teeth done" something you posted and vlogged about -- Dr. Austin's had been putting in work building a name for herself in the cosmetic dentistry industry.


Celebrities like Anthony Anderson, Common, Eva Marcille, Omarosa, Wendy Williams, Busta Rhymes, DJ Khaled, and ASAP Rocky have all graced Dr. Austin's chair and let her hands do what they best: craft beautiful smiles. As a cosmetic dentist, she specializes in providing smile makeovers, which include services such as porcelain veneers, composite veneers, bonding, or "anything that makes your smiles whiter and straighter without braces or major surgery," she says.

Dr. Austin chatted with xoNecole about how she got into cosmetic dentistry, the ups and downs of her career, her plans for expanding her entrepreneurial empire, the power of Black women in dentistry and more. One 2017 study noted that "the underrepresentation for Black dentists is extraordinary." Seeing a Black woman dominate in an underrepresented industry is inspiring. While many of us may not be not fans of visiting the dentist, understanding Dr. Austin's journey to where she is today will give you a newfound appreciation for the power of the hustle and finding your niche.

When you follow your purpose and are willing to invest in and nurture it, you cannot fail.

Dr. Austin wasn't always the dynamic go-getter that she is today. As an adolescent, she grew up with gapped, flared teeth and was never confident about her smile. At the age of 15, her mother surprised her with braces. A year later, she had straight teeth and immediately, she remembers, her "self-esteem, popularity, and confidence increased." By 16, she already had her dreams set on being a dentist so that she could give everyone the [boost] of confidence she experienced.

"A smile is like your business card," says Dr Austin. "It's the first thing people notice about you. If you're not confident about your smile, you don't smile, or you cover it up. It affects your total being."

While attending the University of Maryland School of Dentistry as a minority woman who hadn't majored in the sciences during undergrad, she struggled. There were times that Dr. Austin wanted to quit but with the support of students and administrators who looked like her, she was able to finish her requirements early, took special courses and specialized in oral surgery. That support was key, especially when her non-POC peers often insinuated that she was less than or less able to achieve. "I had to do the work -- sometimes harder than others."

Dr. Austin's catalyst moment came after graduating from dental school and moving to NYC. She found herself immersed in the late 90s Black New York City nightlife.Though she had no office or clients at the time, it was almost as if the universe was guiding her to something greater: her niche. Dr. Austin thought, "These are my friends. This is my network. Celebrities need to have beautiful smiles." She continues, "I put 'Dr. Catrise Austin - Dentist to the Stars' on a business card."

Sometimes you have to envision the dream before you actually live the dream.

Courtesy of Dr. Catrise Austin

Little did she know that act of manifestation was probably the most important thing she ever did.

A chance encounter with Isaac Hayes at Diddy's restaurant Justin's followed. He was so impressed by her tenacity and became her first celebrity client. Isaac ended up welcoming Dr. Austin into his entourage and ushered her into the world of celebrity.

Next, came putting her all into building her brand. "I was everywhere entertainers were -- awards shows, music conferences, nightclubs -- anywhere I could meet my target market." It was tough, but Dr. Austin was determined. "We didn't have social media, so I had to do a lot of street marketing, flyers, business cards, and [word of mouth] networking."

But like any newbie entrepreneur, Dr. Austin still had to deal with the practical challenges of building a business. If she was going to be a "dentist to the stars," Dr. Austin was going to have to do everything to highlight her own starpower and differentiate her brand from her competitors. She hired a publicist early on who helped establish her expertise and increased her visibility in the right media outlets. She also made sure that she was investing in resources that would help her overall bottomline. "I didn't know anything about business...I hired [dental consultants] that came to my office and trained me and my staff on budget, industry standards on overhead, and systems."

By working with the local Small Business Administration, a resource she highly recommends, Dr. Austin received help on creating a long-term business plan. She also recommends that every serious entrepreneur invest in key advisors such as an accountant, bookkeeper, and lawyer. Dr. Austin's constant studying of her competitors uncovered a new market opportunity. "I looked at my top competitors and saw all the top dentists have a sexy location in Manhattan or Beverly HIlls, books, and products."

Tired of promoting other dental products, VIP Smiles, Dr. Austin’s line of dental health and whitening products was born.

She happily says, "I'm excited to see the brand expand because I can offer the same thing that I offer in my office like teeth whitening, but for a lower price point for under $60...and because I'm a dentist, I'm offering products that are safe and really work."

Dr. Austin is so passionate about what she does, she deems it important to educate those who aren't her customers. With the rise of medical tourism and people opting to travel overseas for cosmetic dentistry, she urges consumers to do their research. "One size doesn't fit all," she warns.

It's important to review a cosmetic dentist's credentialing, experience, past work, and warranty. Most importantly, make sure your dentist is also checking the health of your teeth and gums first. It's protocol in Dr. Austin's office for all patients to have a consultation prior to having any services rendered. While your initial investment may be cheaper, you may end up paying more later to fix the damages of poor dental work.

Understanding the product your chosen dentist is using is also crucial. High quality porcelain veneers can cost between $1500-$3000 per tooth. "Many times, overseas dentists are installing composite veneers," Dr. Austin explains. "The material is plastic and that's why they can hand sculpt and do it in one visit. You are getting a cheaper product."

It's also necessary to understand that there are risks. Cosmetic dentistry is irreversible, but still safe. She cautions, "You have to be super sure that you are okay with altering the natural structure or health of your teeth."

By the end of our conversation, I realize that Dr. Austin genuinely loves what she does.

​Dr. Austin understands she's helping to change dental culture as well.

Dr. Catrise/Instagram

"A lot of people are afraid of the dentist. In our culture, you [probably] didn't grow up going to private dental practices. You may have gone to clinics, where the solution was to pull your teeth. Or, the care was not great. A lot of people don't feel comfortable. What people have told me is that [the reason] they chose me is because I'm a woman and I tend to be more sympathetic and empathetic and have a better bedside manner."

The fact that she was a Black female was also one of the reasons Cardi B chose Dr. Austin for her 2016 smile makeover. Dr Austin recalls, "Cardi told me a lot of people were trying to get her to go to the Dominican Republic or other dentists, but she wanted to support a Black female."

The feeling is mutual, too. Dr. Austin dotes, "Cardi B has been a blessing in my life and I have to thank her." Three years later, she still gets referrals because of Cardi. "Cardi B has inspired the world that if you're not happy about your smile to do something about it. If they can't afford me, they are seeking out people they can afford. At least they know, it's a possibility."

Dr. Austin's pride about her work makes me imagine what it must have been like to be in the room when she first saw her new smile at the age of 15. There is no doubt that is her life's purpose. She is walking in alignment.

Dr. Austin recently opened her second dental office in her hometown of Flint, Michigan. She's also working on spreading the reach of her VIP Smiles product line and producing live events and webinars that can help educate future consumers about the power of clean smiles and cosmetic dentistry.

"I want people to remember me for being one of the most honest, genuine, and relatable dentists that was in the business not just for money but to really help change people's lives. I want to go down as someone who really made a difference in the world."

One smile at a time, of course.

To learn more about Dr. Catrise Austin and her work,follow her on Instagram @drcatriseaustin or visit www.vipsmiles.com.

Featured image courtesy of Dr. Catrise Austin

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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