Student Organizes Dental Screenings For Veterans

As part of her Schweitzer Fellows project, University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) College of Dentistry student Nisha Garg initiated a Veterans’ Screening Day at the College recently for veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. Veterans were given a free initial screening and assessment.

Schweitzer Fellows spend a year working to address barriers that impact the health of underserved communities and develop lifelong leadership skills. In doing so, they follow the example set by famed physician-humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, for whom the Fellowship is named.

Garg’s Schweitzer Fellows goal is to provide oral hygiene information and oral health care to military veterans who are ineligible for dental health care in the Veterans Administration (VA) system.

“With the desire to work with the veteran population, Tom Angerame, a classmate, and I began holding oral health seminars at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center for the high percentage of veterans who are ineligible to receive dental care from the VA facility,” Garg said.

The Jesse Brown VA Medical Center is located on Damen Avenue near the UIC Campus.

“My seminars provide information on how to properly maintain oral hygiene, along with how oral health directly relates to the health of the entire body,” Garg said. “After spending months speaking to veterans about their frustrations with receiving dental care,” she added, “Tom and I reached out to Dean Clark Stanford and Dr. Susan Rowan [Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs] about hosting a Veterans’ Screening Day for those individuals.

Garg initially expected only about 25 or 30 participants. “However, days before the event, I started getting phone calls and emails from veterans all over the Chicagoland area and surrounding suburbs,” she said. A total of 73 veterans ended up participating. “That alone is very indicative of how high of a demand low-cost dental care is among the veteran population.”

During the event, 22 students and five faculty members provided screenings. The faculty were Dean Stanford; Dr. Blasé Brown, Clinical Assistant Professor, Oral Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences; Dr. Kaori Ema, Clinical Instructor, Restorative; Dr. Kenneth Gehrke, Clinical Associate Professor, Restorative; and Dr. Charles Neach, Clinical Assistant Professor, Endodontics.

A few veterans who participated were referred elsewhere due to more complex medical or dental needs. Others were accepted as patients of the College and “will be assigned to a student dentist,” Garg said. “From that point forward, all dental care will be provided from our school.

“It was very exciting to witness these veterans finally getting the opportunity for actual dental care,” she concluded. “The students and faculty also expressed their enjoyment with working with such an appreciative and deserving population.”

One of the participants, Robert Hamilton, expressed his appreciation to the College in a letter. He wrote, “As a veteran I would like to thank all of you for showing such concern for our dental health. Everyone was so nice and helpful. I appreciate your effort.”