United States military veterans do not have access to dental services unless they are 100 percent disabled or were prisoners of war.
The Evening Rotary Club of The Villages, in collaboration with Langley Health Services, Sunshine State Veterans Fund and Summer Glen Veteran Club established the Smiles for Veterans Dental Fund to make dental services affordable to low income veterans. The low income veterans can receive general dental services with a $5 out of pocket cost and they can receive dentures at a 50 percent reduction in cost.
“This effort is truly a blessing to the veterans that need it,” said Dusty Rhodes, a long-time member of Rotary and a Navy veteran.
Recently, a veteran contacted Paul Quinn and said he “needed help with his teeth” and he didn’t have any way to pay a dentist. Quinn referred the veteran to the dental team at Langley.
“Well, it was far more serious than the veteran thought. It was life threatening,” said Dr. Sandy Pirie, director of LHS Dental Services.
The veteran had been through serious treatment for neck cancer and the treatments destroyed the roots of his teeth leaving him vulnerable to infection because antibiotics could no longer help him. The veteran could not have his teeth pulled until he received specialized treatment in advance. The Langley dental team got involved and guided the veteran through the process of getting the specialized treatment from the VA and finally all his teeth were safely pulled.
Now the veteran is working with Langley to get his set of dentures. For eligible low-income veterans, the process for dentures takes four to five visits over 10 weeks. Other dental services offered include cavity fillings and crowns.
The Smiles For Veterans Dental Fund has provided dental services to over 200 veterans in Sumter, Citrus and Marion counties since its formation in 2018 thru July 2021. Additional grants predicted the next few months could double that to $20,000.
Low-income veterans typically do not seek preventative care because it is expensive. However, the end result often becomes more serious to their health. According to the Center for Disease Control, more than 40 percent of adults report having felt pain in their mouth within the last year, and more than 80 percent of people will have had at least one cavity by age 34. The nation spends more than $124 billion on costs related to dental care each year. On average, over 34 million school hours and more than $45 billion in productivity are lost each year as a result of dental emergencies requiring unplanned care. Oral conditions are frequently considered separate from other chronic conditions, but these are actually inter-related. Poor oral health is associated with other chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Deaths from dental abscesses today are so rare, that it is difficult to fathom that only 200 years ago, this was a leading cause of death according to the National Library of Medicine.
The Rotarians, Jim Bodenner, Dusty Rhodes and Kat Sizemore, have shared how the Smiles for Veterans Dental Fund works with other Rotary clubs and other organizations around Central Florida to raise funds for the program. They are also working hard to get the word out to low income veterans to make them aware of the dental services offered by the program.
Recently, a Rotary benefactor, understanding the program and observing its use by veterans, offered a challenge grant to match dollar for dollar for up to $15,000 for donations to the program.
The Rotary Club of The Villages (morning) recently donated to the fund. To get more details about the program, obtain a program speaker or to make a donation you can contact Rotarian Jim Bodenner at (616) 866-8180 and a low income veteran can schedule an appointment for dental services by calling Paul Quinn at Langley at (352) 569-2935. Information can also be found on the club’s website www.rotaryvillagesevening.com.