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Dentists to Provide Care for Veterans at Day-of-Care Events

November 3, 2014

Dr. Karin IraniDentists in communities throughout the country are providing free dental care during Veterans Day weekend to those who have served in the military.

Veterans often face difficulties in accessing dental benefits, which are much more limited than medical benefits, through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In order to be eligible for VA dental benefits, a veteran must have a service-related dental disability, be a former prisoner of war or have service-related disabilities rated 100 percent or more, according to the VA.

This year, dentists in Massachusetts and California will host their first Veterans’ Smile Day, which connects impoverished veterans and their families with local dentists to provide comprehensive examinations and basic preventive and restorative dental care, said Dr. Karin Irani, who is spearheading the California event.

“This project really took form after I spoke with a friend, Dr. Deryck Pham, a New Jersey dentist who also happens to be a veteran,” said Dr. Irani. “He contacted me last year and said that he hosts a local day-of-care event each year, and he wanted to know if I might be interested in helping make this a national event.”

Dr. Pham, a lieutenant in the Navy who served as a combat dentist during Operation Iraqi Freedom, created Serving Those Who’ve Served three years ago to help his fellow veterans. Dozens of volunteer dentists, assistants, and hygienists will participate in this year’s event, which will be held Saturday, Nov. 8 at Brickworks Dental in Mays Landing, N.J.

“The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs plays an active part in the effort to provide access to dental care for a limited number of veterans,” said Dr. Pham. “However, the access to care issue for all veterans is a problem that requires the cooperation and participation of community organizations and individual citizens alike.”

All veterans are eligible, provided they can show proof of their service. Dentists will address the most urgent concerns.

“We’ll be providing everything from exams, fillings and cleanings to extractions – all free of charge,” said Dr Pham.

Dentists in southern California have organized the first Veterans Smile Day, which will be held in Los Angeles-area dental offices on Saturday, Nov. 8. Organizers estimate that the 15 participating dentists will be able to treat 200 to 400 people during the single-day event.

Veterans will be assigned to designated dental clinics and asked to arrive when the clinics open.

“The dentists will triage the patients to determine what type of care is needed,” said Dr. Irani. “We recommend that the dentists refer patients to free clinics for follow-up treatment or provide follow-up treatment at a discounted rate.”

The Massachusetts Dental Society this year will host its first Veterans’ Smile Day, which it organized in collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services, according to Ellen Factor, the state society’s director of dental practice. It takes place in dental offices throughout the state on Friday, Nov. 7.

Veterans and their dependents whose incomes fall below the federal poverty line are eligible.

The state’s department of veterans’ services will schedule appointments with participating offices, said Ms. Factor. About 300 people are expected to receive treatment from 70 participating dentists.

Procter & Gamble and Henry Schein, a distributor of healthcare products and services to office-based dental and medical practitioners, are providing basic supplies for participating dentists, said Dr. Irani.  Individual dentists from Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana and Florida are also participating in the Veterans Smile Day program.

“We want to bring awareness to veterans’ needs,” she said. "Our hope is that the dentists participating in this program will be able to provide continuing care for veterans who need it.”

Dentists interested in participating in next year’s event are encouraged to contact Dr. Karin Irani.