By Jessica Jafet
It is said that a smile is contagious, and when shared, can make a person feel better about themselves and their environment. Through its “Smiles for Veterans” program, the Hawthorne-based Touro College of Dental Medicine (TCDM) is recognizing the sacrifice of service members by providing veterans, military personnel, and their families with the gift of a healthy smile with the help of free dental care for the month of November.
On November 16, the school hosted a special event that welcomed 22 vets for a breakfast with special guest speakers, followed by a day of dental treatments that were given by third and fourth-year student pairs, supervised by faculty — as part of their clinical experience.
TCDM has offered free, state-of-the-art, professional dental services to veterans each November since 2018, via its program that the school’s dean, Dr. Ronnie Myers, believes aligns with the culture and mission of the seven-year-old college. Along with its dedication to a rigorous education in dentistry, the school maintains a focus on public health and service to the local community; it requires every student to participate in a minimum of 40 community service hours.
Its future dentists are instilled with the belief that professionals have an obligation to help others in need if they are able to do so.
“It is a no-brainer; what better way to give back than to be able to support our veterans who support us and allow us the privilege of living in this country under the freedoms that we have,” Myers said. “For the month of November, there is no charge for exams, cleanings, and routine fillings and for the rest of the year, vets and their immediate families are entitled to 25 percent off our already reduced fees.”
To see the benefits of this program, one has to look no further than toward the megawatt smile of veteran Miguel Sanchez, a former United States Army Reservist.
In need of a full mouth reconstruction, he was considered a complex case by the team at TCDM. Sanchez said that like many other vets, he did not know where to turn or how to improve his situation, and after searching for a number of years, he happened to see an ad for Smiles for Veterans.
“I decided to call them up and come over for the first level of care,” Sanchez said and was later referred to an expert team who transformed his entire smile. “I guess you can tell, smiling has always been a part of me—I smile easily and I enjoy it—so having this work done has given me confidence and I can interact with people without reservation.”
Hannah Howell, one of approximately 460 students enrolled at TCDM, said that being able to provide this kind of service for veterans was especially rewarding, given that her own grandfather was a dentist in the army.
“It is really cool to be able to provide care to somebody who has gone through the same thing he has,” Howell said. “The vets are no different than anyone else. It is great to chat and hear about their lives and offer them something that they might struggle getting otherwise.”
Given the financial burdens that might cause many veterans to postpone or neglect routine dental visits, the school’s dean said he is pleased to continue the program in order to ensure access so vets can get the oral health care they deserve.
“We hope it goes on for years to come,” Myers said.
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