Los Angeles — Organizers of this year’s Veterans’ Smile Day are seeking volunteers from across the country to expand the annual event and provide more dental care to those who served in the U.S. military.
“We are living the way we are living today thanks to the sacrifices these veterans made,” said Dr. Karin Irani, event organizer and coordinator. “This is a way for us to show some appreciation for what they’ve done for us.”
This year’s event, to be held Nov. 13-14 — the weekend following the Nov. 11 Veterans Day holiday, seeks dentist volunteers to provide services in their own offices.
Last year, 80 dentists from about 50 offices in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Arizona and Florida saw about 600 veterans during the Veterans’ Smile Day.
“There were times when a veteran, who finds out about the event, calls and asks where they can go to see a dentist, and I have to tell them there aren’t any dentists in their area participating,” she said. “So the more volunteers, the better.”
This year, more dentists have already signed on to participate, including dentists from Colorado. In addition, Henry Schein and Procter & Gamble are again sponsoring the event, said Dr. Irani, a graduate of the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership.
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, some veterans who qualify for dental benefits still don’t receive the care they need because of the distance to their nearest VA hospital.
“Last year, some doctors who participated were expecting only older veterans from World War II to visit,” Dr. Irani said. “Some were really surprised when young veterans who are in college or working but don’t qualify for benefits showed up because they needed help.”
During Veterans’ Smile Day, participating dental clinics may provide free dental care such as examinations, X-rays, oral cancer screening, cleanings, fillings, extractions and other preventive and restorative dental care.
Dr. Deryck Pham, a Navy veteran and current class member of the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership, founded the event 3 years ago. Dr. Pham opened his Mays Landing, New Jersey, office to veterans who needed dental care in 2012, treating 33 patients.
After reaching out to his friend and University of Southern California School of Dentistry classmate, Dr. Irani, to helped Veterans’ Smile Day expand to five states last year.
Organizers find veterans who need dental care by promoting the event in colleges, veteran services organizations, and through word-of-mouth and social media. Those veterans are then paired with a volunteer dentist. The day and time of the visit is scheduled ahead of time.
Dentists interested in participating this year, Dr. Irani said, can decide how much time they can contribute, how many people they can see, what time of day they can see the veterans, what dental services they can provide, and whether they can provide the services for free or at a discount. Hygienists and dental assistants are welcome to volunteer as well.
“Whatever dentists can give, we’ll take. Even if it’s just an exam or a cleaning, it’s a big help,” Dr. Irani said. “Everyone can give one day a year. Every dentist can give one day. That’s not asking for a lot.”
For more information on the event and how to participate this year, contact Dr. Irani at firstname.lastname@example.org.