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Veterans’ Smile Day expands its reach

November 17, 2014

By Kimber Solana

Dr. Irani

To honor and thank those who served the United States in the military, dentists in at least five states opened up their offices Nov. 7-8 and provided free dental care to veterans during this year’s Veterans’ Smile Day — an annual event that continues to grow.

“I hope to turn this into a nationwide yearly event,” said Dr. Deryck Pham, a Navy veteran and founder of the event. His dental office in Mays Landing, New Jersey, opened its doors to veterans who needed dental care in 2012, treating 33 patients. Last year, with the help of social media and word-of-mouth, about 20 practices participated.

This year, dentists from about 50 offices in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Arizona and Florida saw about 600 veterans during Veterans’ Smile Day — held during the Veterans Day weekend.

Dr. Pham, a member of the Institute for Diversity in Leadership class of 2014-15, has chosen to expand the program nationwide — similar to Give Kids A Smile — as his Institute leadership project.

“Not many people think of veterans as an underserved population,” Dr. Pham said. “But they face issues of homelessness, unemployment and health-related problems.”

When it comes to dental care, many veterans simply fall through the cracks. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, veterans have to meet certain eligibility factors to receive dental care, such as service-related dental disability or condition, or if they are a former prisoner of war. In addition, Dr. Pham said, some veterans who quality for dental benefits still don’t receive the care they need.

“Some of them have to travel hours away from the nearest VA hospital and then wait many more hours to receive dental care,” he said. “Some just choose to forego the benefit.”

During Veterans’ Smile Day, participating dental clinics provided free dental care such as examinations, X-rays, oral cancer screening, cleanings, fillings, extractions and other preventative and restorative dental care.

Dr. Pham said he plans to continue to utilize social networking, reaching out to friends and colleagues in organized dentistry to ensure veterans have a nearby dental practice to go to during Veterans’ Smile Day.

This year, the program expanded largely with the help of Dr. Karin Irani, who organized the event in Southern California. Dr. Irani, a 2009-10 graduate of the IDL, spearheaded organizing the event after she received a Facebook message from Dr. Pham, her friend and University of Southern California School of Dentistry classmate.

“He asked me, because of my experience with the Institute, if I can take his idea and run with it,” Dr. Irani said. “It was a great idea. I said, ‘Why not? Let’s do it.’”

During the ADA’s 2013 annual meeting in New Orleans, Dr. Irani shared the idea of providing free dental care to veterans to fellow Institute graduates who agreed to participate. Overall, about 15 dentists in the Los Angeles area participated in the first Veterans’ Smile Day for the first time this year.

“It’s amazing how many veterans, young and old, don’t have access to dental services. I knew I’d get a lot of veterans who are in the older generation, but I didn’t expect to also get a lot of younger veterans who finished their service three to four years ago. Some of them are going to college and can’t afford dental care,” said Dr. Irani. “I’m hoping next year, if the word get outs, more doctors want to help out.”

For more information on the event and how to participate next year, contact Dr. Pham at deryckp@hotmail.com or Dr. Irani at ddsusc03@gmail.com.