Veterans are a special population that has unique dental care needs that are not being met. Although veterans receive free medical care for life from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), lifetime dental care is only given to those who are 100% disabled by their service, former prisoners of war or have a dental disability caused in service. Surveys administered by the VA showed that dental care was ranked as one of the top unmet needs, with only 3% of all veterans eligible for comprehensive dental benefits. This gap in dental care can lead to negative overall health conditions and the inability to find employment opportunities for homeless veterans.
This past March, over 144 students, 32 dental faculty members and dozens of staff participated in Midwestern University College of Dental Medicine’s first free dental day for veterans. The event had been widely publicized and appointment slots were booked. The Luke Air Force Base Color Guard helped open the day with a presentation of colors.
Students and faculty provided free dental screenings and care to veterans in need. Over 200 Arizona veterans received more than $40,000 worth of treatments including cleanings, sealants, fillings or extractions. More than 750 procedures were performed, including consultations for dental implants and recommendations for follow-up care.
According to the 2009-2013 U.S. Census, of the 21 million veterans in the United States, 500,000 of them live in Arizona. Therefore, it is imperative that students learn how to better meet the needs of this large population. Many of these veterans had not been to the dentist in years. For some, it had been a decade since their last visit.
Working with these patients and giving back to those in need was rewarding for both volunteers and patients. It was an amazing experience to witness the hard work from all the students and compassion that every volunteer put in to change the smiles and lives of veterans in just a few short hours. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to take part in this event and hope more schools are able to work with these populations.
~Christy Tran, Midwestern-Arizona ’20, Chapter Immediate Past President