Why we’re giving vets free dental care this Saturday

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I’m here to take care of a whole person, not just a tooth – that’s what I tell every patient I see at my dental office in Boynton Beach. Many Americans don’t realize the impact of oral health on overall well-being. When my team creates a treatment plan for our patients, we look at the whole picture: blood tests, medications, previous procedures, family history. Each of these factors is critical to care management.

When left unchecked, poor oral hygiene is a serious problem. It has been linked to a number of significant health issues like an increased risk of diabetes, heart problems and even stroke, not to mention periodontitis (gum disease) and cavities.

Access to dental care is a need that all Americans deserve. In my years of practice, I have seen the many barriers that prevent patients from receiving care, including financial hardship, time constraints, and fear. But one group in particular faces a unique challenge — our country’s military veterans.

Most rely primarily on U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health insurance, but this insurance does not cover dental care unless a military veteran is one hundred percent disabled, has a mouth-related injury serving or was a prisoner of war. This means that only 8% of veterans covered by VA are eligible for dental insurance—a surprisingly low number that demonstrates the sheer number of veterans being left behind.

To help combat this issue, my practice is opening its doors to military veterans on Saturday, June 11 for a day of free care. It’s all part of Aspen Dental’s Healthy Mouth movement, when physicians and healthcare teams across the country come together to advance healthcare for veterans. Since 2014, teams have served more than 30,000 veterans and those in need with $23 million in dental donations.

Participating in this day of service was a truly enriching experience. We’ve helped a number of patients regain a new smile through implant procedures, and we’ve even adopted a Coast Guard veteran for free, ongoing care. He had delayed care to prioritize paying for his wife’s ongoing health treatments, and we were thrilled to create a brand new smile with new crowns and a partial denture placed the same day. After the event, he even came a few more times for follow-up care to make sure everything was working properly.

I am honored to have been part of this movement and to make a difference in the lives of members of the underserved community. Here in Florida, many veterans are aging and need specialized care. They don’t realize how a diagnosis of diabetes can lead to gum disease that requires specific oral health treatment. My team is committed to working with specialists and other healthcare professionals, all in the name of caring for the whole person.

I couldn’t be prouder of my team for stepping up and caring for our nation’s heroes over the past years, and we look forward to honoring our veterans on this year’s Day of Service. We are happy to make a difference in our local community, but I know that systemic change can only happen when we all work together. Looking ahead, I ask all healthcare professionals in our state to identify solutions to improve access to care. By intentionally addressing the barriers that underserved populations often face, we can make a real difference in the lives of our patients.

Veterans can call 1-844-277-3646 to find a location and schedule an appointment near them.

Dr. Jessica Shapiro is the primary dentist for Aspen Dental’s Boynton Beach location.

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