Veterans Find Free Dental Care at CVTC Clinic; Give Vets a Smile Day could become annual event
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EAU CLAIRE – Andrew Francis of Gilman was desperate for help.
“All my front teeth started to break off about five years ago,” he said as he waited for his appointment at the Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) Dental Clinic.
The U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam veteran receives his health care through the Veterans Administration, but in most cases veterans benefits do not include dental care. “That’s why my teeth are so bad,” Francis said.
So Francis traveled to Eau Claire Saturday, Nov. 14, for Give Vets a Smile Day, which provided an opportunity for veterans without other dental benefits to receive free dental care.
“It’s our way of saying ‘Thank you for serving our country,’ ” said Pam Entorf, CVTC Dental Hygienist program instructor and outreach coordinator of the clinic. “We are hoping this can become an annual event much like Give Kids a Smile Day is. Veterans do not receive any dental benefits unless they are 100% percent disabled or suffered an oral injury related to their service.”
The event was exactly the opportunity Francis had been waiting for. He knew he needed what was left of his front teeth extracted.
“There was nothing I could do,” Francis said. “I went to one place and they wanted $6,000 up front. Where am I going to get $6,000?”
Francis was well aware that the service may not be able to take care of all of his needs in one appointment, but he was optimistic. “Hopefully they can take out as many as they can,” he said.
Most of the approximately 70 veterans receiving services at Give Vets a Smile did not have such dramatic stories. Many received overdue dental hygiene work and checkups from one of the four dentists volunteering their time. Dental services available included fillings, extractions, limited root-canal therapy, and limited denture services.
Steven Heisel, a U.S. Navy veteran from Altoona, appreciated the opportunity for dental care. He graduated from CVTC’s Human Resources program in 2012, then went on to complete his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Marketing at UW-Stout. But right now he’s looking for work with a non-profit group.
“The VA does a lot for you, but they won’t give you dental insurance,” he said. “I’ve gone years without having it.”
“I’ve got some problems with my teeth and I haven’t got the money to take care of it right now, but my son’s trying to help me out,” said Benedict Solis of Alma Center, a Korean War era veteran who once patrolled the Cold War border between Germany and Czechoslovakia. “There’s a lot of people I know who need this.”
“It makes me feel so good to be able to give back,” said Dr. John Look, a U.S. Air Force veteran himself who retired from a long dental practice in Chippewa Falls. He now works at the CVTC Dental Clinic and was happy to volunteer for Give Vets a Smile.
“The veterans have done so much. They disrupted their lives for a period of time,” Look said. “It’s fun talking to them about when they served.”
Entorf said the idea for Give Vets a Smile came from a letter she received from a college in Kansas City, Mo. that established a similar program three years ago in its dental programs after finding a need in their area. Entorf then contacted the veterans’ service officers in Eau Claire, Chippewa and Dunn counties.
“They said there’s a huge need for dental services for veterans,” Entorf said. “It’s one of their most requested services.”
Entorf and the CVTC Dental Clinic staff planned the event along the same lines as Give Kids a Smile, an annual nationwide event held in February in which the clinic takes part. Dental Hygienist students, as well as graduates of the program and other professionals in the field, were eager to help out.
“It’s really great to see our past graduates come in and help out when they can,” Entorf said.
Entorf said the turnout of patients was tremendous. People were calling as soon as word got out. The staff saw as many patients as they could for Give Vets a Smile, and there was a waiting list of about 50 patients.
Give Vets a Smite may become an annual event. “We will try to run it as close to Veteran’s Day as possible,” Entorf said.