Remembering the need for dental care this Veterans Day, Nov. 11

Most of their fellow countrymen do no realize that America's veterans do not automatically receive dental benefits. That's why volunteers through Aspen Dental help when they can by volunteering to treat veterans.

Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2015 11 Veterans Survey 1

At my dental practice, I see veteran patients who are in urgent need of dental care due to pain caused by years of delaying their oral health care. As a veteran myself, this issue is acutely personal, yet it is one that is largely unknown to the general public.

While medical benefits are available to all active duty members and veterans through the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, dental benefits are not. In fact, veterans do not receive government dental benefits unless they are classified as 100% disabled, have a service-connected dental condition, or have a service-oriented medical condition that is affected by their mouth. These are requirements that many veterans do not meet.

In a recent survey, only 44% of Americans were aware of the full criteria that veterans must meet to be eligible for dental benefits through the VA, while two-in-five respondents (37%) believed that all U.S. veterans received dental care for their service to our country. It’s clear that access to dental care is an overlooked issue facing veterans, and the lack of dental benefits can cause them to stay away from the dentist because they can’t afford it or lack insurance coverage.

Only 12% of respondents considered access to dental care to be one of the top three challenges veteran’s face—important issues like readjusting to civilian life (63%), finding employment (61%) and accessing medical care (47%) ranked at the top. However, what the general public doesn’t realize is that these other significant challenges are directly tied to oral health.

As we all know, the benefits of good oral health are not only physical—as a proper smile can improve self-esteem—they also invoke greater confidence and provide higher employment opportunities, which three-quarters of Americans agree with.

It’s clear that our nation’s veterans need help in breaking down barriers to access dental care. It’s why hundreds of my peers and I volunteer with Aspen Dental’s Healthy Mouth Movement, where we help give several veterans free dental care throughout the year. There was one veteran in particular who truly made an impact on me. After helping to restore his smile, his unbridled enthusiasm was evident, and today he’s helping his fellow veterans with their transition by volunteering at a suicide hotline.

The reality is that fixing a mouth can sometimes fix the whole person, giving someone the boost they need to improve other aspects of their lives. Providing them the help they need, specifically dental care, is key in helping veterans transition back into civilian life and continue to serve our communities.

Melissa Thompson, DMD, owns Aspen Dental practices in Woburn, Peabody, Medford, and Saugus, Massachusetts. She is also a veteran of the Massachusetts National Guard.

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