Robert Spencer had not eaten solid food in years.
Spencer, a U.S. Navy veteran, visited the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine to have his teeth adjusted, an issue that prevented him from using his dentures and led to his losing a substantial amount of weight.
He left the school that day with a smile from ear to ear, having received the adjustment needed to use his dentures.
“I just love UB for what they’re doing and what they stand for,” said Spencer, eager to return home to practice chewing before sinking his teeth into a steak.
Spencer was one of 174 veterans who attended the dental school’s second annual Dentistry Smiles on Veterans Day, a program that thanks local service men and women for their service with free screenings, cleanings, restorations, extractions and repairs.
During the day of free dental care, the program aims to deliver needed services to veterans who lack dental insurance or do not qualify for dental treatment through the Veterans Health Administration, a benefit reserved only for those with service-related dental injuries.
“It’s the day after Veterans Day, so it’s the perfect day to help veterans,” said Brendan Dowd, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Restorative Dentistry.
“They are a great segment of our population who have served us immensely and given up a lot of sacrifices. So this is a small token of our appreciation.”
Dentistry Smiles on Veterans Day was a partnership between the School of Dental Medicine, the Eighth District Dental Society and the New York State Dental Association.
The effort called on hundreds of volunteers from the community, including 45 local dentists and hygienists, 50 UB dental school staff members and 150 dental students. Faculty from the School of Social Work also provided counseling services.
“As a former naval officer, this event means a great deal to me,” said Joseph Zambon, dean of the School of Dental Medicine, who was reminded of his experience treating Vietnam War veterans as a dental resident at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth.
“I feel great pride witnessing my fellow colleagues within the dental community rally together to help those who served in the U.S. military.”
Throughout the day, the care provided ranged from a simple cleaning to oral surgery.
After the veterans received treatment, dental school staff assisted those who lacked a primary care dentist with finding a dental home, whether at UB or with a dentist in the community.
“I came here not knowing what to expect,” said U.S. Navy veteran Douglas Barney. “It’s kind of humbling … I’m so happy to see such a large turnout and people who actually care that they have the freedom that we ultimately were able to provide for them.”