As one of 340,000 veterans who call Kentucky home, it is hard to see the struggles a lot of my fellow servicemen are going through — not just those returning from recent active duty but even those from previous wars.
As a dentist, I am often faced with veteran patients who are in serious need of dental work, due to many years of delaying oral health care.
Whether due to barriers such as their financial situation, insurance, access, time or deep-seated emotional fears, I see firsthand the need that exists in our local veteran community. This becomes especially prevalent when veterans are unable to obtain or afford dental insurance provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
These veterans are like millions of other Americans who didn't go to a dentist last year. So, when an opportunity arose to serve those who have served before and alongside me, I was quick to raise my hand.
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I volunteered as one of the lead dentists in a mobile dental office, called the Aspen Dental MouthMobile, a couple of weeks back. In this 42-foot dental office on wheels we provide many Lexington veterans with much-needed services, like fillings and extractions, free of charge.
It's important to realize a healthy mouth, free of dental pain, can be truly life-changing. I've witnessed it: folks who were too embarrassed to even look me in the eye are now confident and able to smile.
They're looking at me, shaking my hand, with a healthy mouth and a newfound confidence. I'm honored to help give veterans the smiles they deserve and empower them to be leaders and assets in our community.
However, veterans aren't the only ones who face barriers to affordable dental care. More than 150 million American adults did not visit a dentist last year, a shocking figure since new research continues to find a strong connection between oral health and overall body health. This is especially true when it comes to cardiovascular disease, the number one cause of death in America.
Unfortunately, Kentucky is no different. In fact, large parts of the state are recognized by the Department of Health and Human Services as Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas, meaning residents often cannot find or afford a dentist.
Our great state and nation are experiencing a dental crisis. It's sad to say, but every single day I see patients who require serious dental care. Patients deserve dentistry nearby and at reasonable prices, and it is imperative we close the gap in access that prevents people from treating their mouths.
Preventative care is much more affordable than delaying care. There's no comparison in cost between a tiny filling today and a root canal, crown or implant five years from now. So if you've been delaying care, now is the time to change that.
A healthy mouth is vital to living a healthy, enjoyable life — and not just for a veteran.