Oral Health of our Troops

Oral Health of our Troops

happy smile solderEvery morning I like to run along Franklin Delano Roosevelt boardwalk in Staten Island. It’s a beautiful run with the Verrazano bridge stretching into the horizon. One morning a few months ago, a group of troops were also exercising along the worlds fourth longest boardwalk . It’s a perfect place to let the mind be free and soul rest. Surrounded by the view of the ocean, the bridge, the beach, Brooklyn in the distance and trees. As I saw the soldiers and feeling the freedom around me,  I felt compelled to thank them for their service. Thank you! Thank you! I heard myself yelling, waving and smiling. As the words left my lips I thought to myself, ‘ I’m a cosmetic dentist! Why not actually DO something to show my appreciation!’ 

So excited by my idea and that I could give back, I arranged to close my Staten Island office for two days and offer free whitening to active serving military! It was wonderful experience, but what resonated in my mind was the words of the troops.  They told me stories of the problems they had with their teeth. Oral health of these men and women actually suffers while serving our country on foreign shores for multiple reasons.   This can have a long-lasting effect on their lives. The more I looked into it I found that the Oral Health of our Troops is really a forgotten price paid for the freedom we enjoy. 

My thoughts were now with returning wartime veterans with poor oral health, pain and missing teeth from war.  I thought of all the ways it could affect their new life. Could it ruin their successful return into the civilian work force? Lets be honest what do we think when we see a man or woman with missing front teeth for example? We judge in a less than favorable way.  I know the strength of a wonderful smile, how powerfully it can raise self-esteem. This is my expertise, how could I help ? As I cosmetic dentist, I’ve seen the devastating pain of the worst oral health problems, health suffers, not being able to eat, infections, in turn relationships suffer, jobs, depression.  I think you get the picture. I could only begin to imagine the difficulties veterans were facing. I had a feeling that insurance wouldn’t cover cosmetic procedures. I decided to do some more research to find out if the problem was as bad as I feared and to find out how I could use my skills to help. 

At first like most I turned to Google. I read a news Article back from 2011 ABC local News 8 they found ‘the Veterans Administration is not required to fix a soldier’s teeth unless he or she can document the teeth were lost or damaged in battle. Experts say tracking down that kind of documentation in the vast military bureaucracy can take up to a year. The real problem is this: In many cases the documentation doesn’t exist, at all. In a war zone, documenting damaged teeth is a low priority.’ I searched further, reading one personal story after another which broke my heart.  
I reached out to The Department of Veterans Affairs and every New York organization I could think of  to see how big is this problem and what help is out there. There was very little feed back . No one kept records, no one could tell me the extent of the problem. I met with the New York Cities Mayors Office for Veterans affairs who confirmed my fears. They explained there is very little help and how PTSD can keep a veteran from a dentist’s chair . The lights , sound of the drills can bring back flashbacks of combat.  I know how many people fear the dentist’s office who have not faced the trauma of war. In my own practice I created what I call a  “Dental Spa” to create ambiance that helps forget the smells, tastes, sounds and surroundings of a conventional dental office. When you visit us in Staten Island you will see that “spa” is not only our name, but it’s mission. I understand that any help given has to be sensitive to the special needs of these wonderful people.

Well this story isn’t finished and I’m on a mission to help Veterans receive cosmetic procedures at no cost. I’m not sure exactly how. I will keep you updated with my progress. 

Let me finish by saying lets all appreciate the freedom we have everyday. Lets keep in our minds the men and women that sacrifice their lives and health for us. And of course lets smile, appreciate and take care of our own good oral health.