An airman-turned-dentist will be among the thousands to offer free dental care to veterans next month during Aspen Dental's fifth annual “Day of Service” event.
Dr. Jere Gillan, who served as an aircraft loadmaster after enlisting in the Air Force in 1995, said that the event, which is part of Aspen Dental’s Healthy Mouth Movement, is an opportunity to connect with fellow veterans who have had life experiences similar to his.
“It warms my heart every time I get to meet somebody that’s kind of been through the same thing I have, or we have similar experiences,” Gillan, who practices in Orlando, Fla., told Fox News.
“I was very fortunate when I left the service to finish college and go on to become a dentist — but I know a very small percentage have had my experience, it’s mostly the opposite.”
Gillan, who is one of the estimated 10,000 dentists and office personnel volunteering their time and skills on June 9, said he knows firsthand how difficult it can be for veterans to access dental care. He said that many patients he sees on “Day of Service” haven’t had dental care since leaving the military.
Aspen Dental Management, Inc. supports 660 offices in 37 states providing those practices with business support and administrative services.
“The first year we saw veterans I was in the Orlando office and a guy named Bill came in, and he had no teeth — they were just like pieces of teeth resting in the gums,” Gillan said. “He hadn’t seen the dentist in about 20 years, but he was a really vibrant, funny character.”
Gillan said that Bill complained about not being able to go on a date in 15 years because of his teeth.
“We decided that Bill needed our help pretty badly that day, so we said, ‘Listen, we’ll make impressions, get you a set of dentures, and we’ll get you something you can be proud of,’” he said.
Gillan said he saw Bill several times afterward for adjustments, and that he joked about not being able to keep the women away from him now with his new look.
“We gave him confidence and that just made me smile — it changed his life,” Gillan said. “We try to give them confidence back, we try to empower them to be part of their community if they feel like they can’t in their current dental condition.”
He said that many success stories involve veterans being able to go on job interviews following treatment offered during “Day of Service.”
In addition to office visits, Aspen Dental provides care via the MouthMobile, a 42-foot long moving dentist office that has traveled to 30 states over the last four years. In total, the campaign has donated an estimated $10 million in dental care to 17,000 veterans across its 500 offices.
“The biggest investment is time from the volunteers, doctors and teams that are there,” Gillan said. “They love doing it and taking care of people that need our help.”
Starting May 1, veterans can call 1-844-277-3646 to find a participating office.