COLUMBIA, SC Stephen Parker of Columbia hadn’t been to the dentist since he left the military “10 or 20 years ago,” he said, his mouth numb with Novocain.
The opportunity to fix a bad tooth came to the retired Marine on Thursday through the Healthy Mouth Movement sponsored by Aspen Dental, which has offices in the Midlands.
Volunteers with a complete dental office, arranged in a 42-foot mobile office, parked outside the South Carolina State House to treat the dental needs of about 38 veterans for free.
Sheri Willis of Irmo woke up with a painful, swollen mouth Sept. 8. The dental insurance with her new job hadn’t kicked in yet so she’s been waiting since then for relief.
“They’re going to fix my smile today, she said while waiting for her appointment.
Many veterans signed up for an appointment weeks ago, as soon as they heard about the traveling clinic.
“ A lot of veterans don’t have access to dental care,” said Dr. Logan Nalley, a dentist from Aiken, one of the dentists at the event. “A really infected tooth can quickly become life threatening.”
People often go to the emergency room for antibiotics, which treat the infection, but don’t solve the problem, she said. Proper dental care “fixes the problem, and stops the cycle of going back to the E.R.”
Veterans only receive dental coverage if they are 100 percent disabled or have a service-related injury to their mouths, according to the U.S. Veterans Administration.
The Healthy Mouth Movement has helped about 7,000 patients since 2014, including through visits to 60 communities with the mobile unit, according to Aspen Dental.
HOW HEALTHY ARE WE?
Millions of people, including veterans, do not seek dental care, often because of factors such as access and cost.
▪ 150 million Americans didn’t go to the dentist last year.
▪ Nearly 40 percent of Americans say they have limited or will limit dental care because of financial reasons. That’s despite 80 percent knowing that that delaying routine dental visits will cost more money over time.
▪ Nearly one in five Americans would fix problems with their car ahead of addressing pain in their mouth.
SOURCE: Aspen Dental Management 2015 survey