There are very specific guidelines for veterans when it comes to receiving dental benefits through the government, leaving many former military personnel with no option but to pay for their care out of pocket.
That’s why the Touro College of Dental Medicine (TCDM) hosts Smiles for Veterans each November, which provides free dental care for veterans, military personnel, and their family in collaboration with the Ninth District Dental Association and the New York State Dental Foundation.
This year, to reduce the risk of crowds and ensure patient safety during the pandemic, TCDM is offering free dental screenings, X-rays, cleanings, and fillings throughout the entire month of November. Robert Brown, a Marine Corps veteran, was among the participants.
“It’s real important to me,” said Brown. “My medical is covered, but no dental, and I am trying to get my smile back together.”
“Recognizing those that have selflessly served our country to defend our freedoms speaks to the mission of TCDM, a mission that is to deliver excellent service with integrity, compassion, and empathy,” said dean Ronnie Myers, DDS. “Being able to give back to veterans for their service and sacrifice makes us proud.”
As many veterans and their families delay routine dental visits and necessary treatment due to financial constraints, TCDM hosts Smiles for Veterans each year to provide those who have sacrificed so much a chance to jumpstart their journey back to maintaining good oral and overall health, according to the school.
The event has been an anticipated milestone in each dental student’s clinical experience and an opportunity for TCDM to instill the importance of community service in these future dentists who will someday have the opportunity to give back to their own communities, the school said.
“I know how hard our veterans have worked to serve the country, and I believe that they deserve recognition for their service not just on Veterans Day but every day,” said fourth-year dental student Steven Chung, whose brother is currently serving in the Air Force. “I am proud that I can be part of giving back to those who have given so much to us.”
Yathyra Portilla is a former avionics technician who was stationed at Royal Air Force Upper Heyford in Oxford, England. Now a massage therapist, Portilla said that she recognizes the importance of taking care of the body, comparing health maintenance with the work she had previously done on fighter jets.
“Your body is a machine just like your car. And, my airplanes, I used to take care of them so they would last, so they would work. What do you think the body needs? The very same thing,” said Portilla, who requires dental implants and was directed to TCDM by the Veterans Administration for her care.
“I want to be able to smile naturally and eat and speak naturally,” she said. “Teeth are really important. They are a part of your happiness.”
TCDM said it looks forward to continuing to host Smiles for Veterans and working again with its community partners to ensure veterans and their families have access to the vital dental care that they deserve.
In addition to the free dental services offered through Smiles for Veterans, Touro Dental Health offers courtesy rates for veterans, military personnel, and their spouses on an ongoing basis. More information is available at (914) 594-2700 and online.