Raleigh, N.C. — Dr. Anna Abernethy is still not sure how one of the patients she treated this year — a 52-year-old Army veteran — managed without teeth for nearly 40 years.
“For some reason or another, he had all his teeth removed before he enlisted,” she said. “He didn’t know how to smile. He couldn’t chew solid food.”
But six months ago, Dr. Abernethy gave the Army veteran lower and upper dentures, allowing him to smile and eat normally for the first time in decades.
“We were all crying afterward,” she said. “He was such a sweetheart and was so grateful.”
The patient was among a dozen U.S. veterans Dr. Abernethy has helped in the past five years through her volunteer work with the Dental Lifeline Network, a national nonprofit that provides no cost, comprehensive dental treatment to people with disabilities or people who are elderly or medically fragile.
Dental Lifeline Network (dentallifeline.org) is encouraging other dentists around the country to donate their time and skills to at least one veteran as part of its continuing Will You See One Vet campaign. Their goal: recruit more general dentists and specialists to register as a volunteer at WillYouSeeOneVet.org.
“I volunteered after I realized they simply don’t get the care they need,” Dr. Abernethy said.
“Veterans have served our country well,” said ADA President Chad P. Gehani. “They have sacrificed their lives for peace so that we can remain free. This is a small thank you from the dental community to our veterans.”
Last year, Dr. Abernethy was among 900 volunteer dentists who donated their services through Donated Dental Services (DDS), the network’s flagship program. However, according to Dental Lifeline Network, many veterans remained on the wait list.
The campaign, which includes targeted outreach, media and advertising, utilizes imagery of veterans telling their life-changing stories after receiving comprehensive dental care. One component of the campaign is a radio public service announcement distributed to media outlets nationwide. In addition, the PSA was distributed for print and digital advertising for national and state outlets across the country.
After volunteers fill out a short form, Dental Lifeline Network screens patients to confirm eligibility, helps ensure that they show up to appointments and coordinates lab work and any needed specialty care.
“Lack of dental care can lead to the inability to have a life-saving surgery, eat again or contribute to the community,” said Fred Leviton, chief executive officer of Dental Lifeline Network. “For many of these veterans, volunteer dental professionals are their only hope. Through the Will You See One Vet campaign, DLN hopes to expand its network of dentists and their teams to volunteer to see one veteran with special needs one time per year.”
Volunteers will join more than 15,000 other dentists nationwide and 3,400 laboratories that make up the network. Currently, there are more than 17,000 people on waiting lists for Donated Dental Services. Since 1985, the Dental Lifeline Network DDS program has surpassed $378 million in donated dental care.
The ADA and DLN are strategic partners. The two organizations maintain and nurture a collaborative relationship in which the ADA helps to further and promote the Dental Lifeline Network’s humanitarian mission, as feasible, especially encouraging its members and constituents to volunteer to help people with special needs including veterans. In exchange, the network will promote the charitable services of ADA members and how the organization and its members improve access to dental care for vulnerable people.
To register as a volunteer, visit WillYouSeeOneVet.org.