Most of our country’s 18.2 million veterans aren’t eligible to receive dental care at the Veterans Administration. Surprised? Research shows oral health is interconnected with an individual’s overall physical health, but many veterans have slipped through the cracks for dental care.
Some nonprofit programs provide free dental care to veterans. Keep reading for info on two of them. Both were started by dentists operating on a shoestring budget, but their passion for veterans has become a grassroots movement. Together, these organizations have provided vital dental care to thousands of veterans across the country.
Veterans Smiles Day: Saturday, Nov. 9
One day each year, veterans can get free dental care at one of 600 participating dentists. Available treatments include exams, X-rays, cleanings, fillings, root canals and extractions.
Veterans Smiles Day is the brainchild of Deryck Pham, DDS, who served in the Navy after finishing dental school. While Dr. Pham served in Iraq, he saw firsthand the impact combat can have on the mental and physical health of men and women. That became the seed for Veterans Smiles Day, a program that recruits dentists from across the country to provide free dental care to veterans.
“We only ask our dentists to treat one veteran,” says Dr. Pham. “But most dentists want to do more to support veterans, so they end up treating several patients. And veterans are always so grateful someone has remembered them.”
Find a participating dentist for Veterans Smiles Day at www.veteranssmilesday.org.
Everyone for Veterans
Everyone for Veterans matches applicants with a volunteer dentist for one year of free dental care. For veterans who may not have gone to a dentist for several years, there may be underlying dental issues that will take several visits to address properly.
“We realized some low-income veterans spend a lifetime with one urgent need after another, so they never have a healthy mouth,” says Dr. Theresa Cheng, founder of Everyone for Veterans. “Our concept is we get our veterans totally fixed up, and then it’s easier for them to keep up with it.”
Dental treatments can vary depending on the dentist’s capacity and resources. In addition to fillings, root canals and extractions, many veterans have received bridges and dentures that have helped transform their everyday lives.
Low-income veterans who’ve served in combat or imminent danger zones are eligible for this program, which also includes the Coast Guard. Spouses of combat veterans can also apply for the Everyone for Veterans program. Learn more at www.everyoneforveterans.org.