Robert O. has spent a lifetime being afraid to smile and he says many of those years were spent in pain. The 47-year-old US Army veteran had been unable to find the money necessary to tend to his teeth and years of being homeless and having no insurance led to neglect. Now he is learning to smile again courtesy of a partnership between HVAF and the IU School of Dentistry which began in August 2013.
“This will change my look and self-confidence and hopefully land me a new job,” Robert says. “It is exciting to start looking for employment again and I want to be a driver.”
IUPUI has been working with case managers at HVAF to identify and select veterans who seem most likely to get hired and maintain their employment. The idea is to alleviate pain, improve health and boost self-esteem. That could bolster job prospects, not to mention put a decent meal within reach.
“Our goal is to help the veterans become more employable by giving them the kind of dental appearance needed for jobs in the public eye,” said Karen Yoder, director of civic engagement and health policy and a professor of preventive and community dentistry. “A person without front teeth, for example, is likely to find it difficult to be hired for a job in a restaurant,” she said.
Yoder applied for and received a $12,000 grant from the Dental Pipeline National Learning Institute for the dental project. After the program was launched $85,000 was secured from additional sources to continue and expand the program.
“This is a tremendous benefit to our clients and they have been very excited about their dentistry appointments and we are happy this partnership is helping so many veterans,” says Bryan Dysert Director of Programs and Services at HVAF.
Eighteen veterans from HVAF have been treated at IU School of Dentistry at no cost through this program; some have had ten or more appointments and are receiving comprehensive restorative and prosthetic dental services.
Criteria for the dental program include attending one week of job training at the Boner Community Center and align with a Boner Center Job Coach; being present for all dental appointments agreed upon at IU School of Dentistry; being age 60 or younger to maximize years of employability; have one or more missing or broken upper or lower front teeth (cuspid to cuspid) and seeking and/or intending to be employed.
Robert cannot believe the transformation and he is proud to show his smile. He also has accomplished one year sobriety this month.