Veterans who can’t afford to make regular trips to the dentist may now have an alternative need not worry — the dentists are coming to them.
Aspen Dental, a nationwide network of locally owned and operated dental practices, and Got Your 6, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering veterans to strengthen communities, have teamed up for the Healthy Mouth Movement, which includes a "MouthMobile" that will stop at in more than 30 cities across the country over the next several months.
The dental clinic on wheels offers care ranging from a regular cleaning to a set of dentures.
"When you think about empowering veterans and strengthening communities, oftentimes veterans don't have the basic services, including dental care," said Bill Rausch, an Army veteran and executive director of Got Your 6.
Rausch said nNot all veterans qualify for dental care at the VA, Rausch said, so this provides an opportunity for them to receive the care they need.
Aspen Dental created the Healthy Mouth Movement in 2014, which started as a broad outreach effort benefit to anyone who needed dental care but typically who normally couldn’t get it.
"The following year, we decided to hone it to our nation's veterans," said Dr. Jere Gillan, a dentist with Aspen Dental and an Air Force veteran. "We see a huge disparity in dental care in a lot of Americans but really in the veteran community."
The MouthMobile stops in cities where local dentists and hygienists will volunteer their time and services to treat veterans for a day.
Since the Healthy Mouth Movement was initiated, Aspen Dental has helped almost 7,000 people across the country, resulting in nearly $4 million in free dental care and education.
The MouthMobile has seen 164 patients since the 2016 tour began in February, with more than $76,000 in dental care and assistance donated.
Rausch said oOne veteran who visited the rolling dental clinic didn’t feel comfortable or confident enough to leave his house, Rausch said, but after receiving a set of dentures, he’s pursuing a career and volunteering.
"[Got Your 6] wants veterans to come back from war or service and be great, effective pillars of the community," Gillan said. "It can be tough for people. Got Your 6 is there to help support them, and Aspen Dental is there to support in an indirect way by helping them out with a smile."
Air Force veteran Randall Murray said he received free dental care through the Healthy Mouth Movement in June 2015. After taking X-rays of Murray’s teeth, the clinic determined that realized he needed 10 crowns, which normally would have cost Murray $16,000.
"Many veterans who have served our great country find themselves struggling to address the most basic needs in life," Murray said. "The Healthy Mouth Movement program helps address the gap in services and resources available to the veteran population."
For those who aren’t dentists but still want to contribute to the program, all they you have to do is smile ... then take a selfie and post it with the hashtags #Smile4Vets and #Sweepstakes.
"For every selfie shared, Aspen Dental donates $1 to Got Your 6," Rausch said.
Anyone who shares a selfie will be entered to win a year of free dental care, plus a meeting with NASCAR driver and Healthy Mouth Movement ambassador Danica Patrick.
"Giving them a new smile … a whole new world opens up for them," Gillan said.
April 5: Fort Wayne, Indiana
April 7: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
April 11: Flint, Michigan
April 12: Detroit, Michigan
April 14: Cleveland, Ohio
Appointments for the MouthMobile are filled in advance with support from local veterans organizations. To learn more about the MouthMobile tour, visit HealthyMouthMovement.com.
Charlsy Panzino covers veterans education/employment/transition issues, entertainment, fitness and travel. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.