NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla — There are more than 300,000 veterans in the Tampa Bay area alone, and a local nonprofit has helped provide many of them with dental care, as most are not eligible for Veterans Affairs dental benefits.
A new set of molars will give Jasmine Johnson, an Army veteran in Tampa, a whole new outlook on life.
“I’m going to start living again!” Have fun!” she laughs.
She is among dozens of veterans who received dental implants through Smile Faith Dental in Pasco County Thursday and Friday.
“It helps us so much on so many different levels because a lot of veterans are income-based veterans, which means they’re on a fixed income,” Johnson said.
Dr. Mike O’Carroll, vice president of operations for the Smile Faith Foundation, says they provide free, low-cost dental care not only to veterans, but also to survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence. They offer the services through donations and partnerships.
“Nobody else does what we do,” he said.
Dentists from all over the country have been coming to Tampa for the past two days to learn how to place dental implants. Dr. O’Carroll said they pay for the course and practice on veterans who really need work!
“If you are missing a tooth, just one tooth, it can really change your life and if we can give that back to an individual, that is an invaluable service that we are getting,” said Dr Lon Mcrae, a registered dentist. from Idaho.
He is also one of the instructors. He said this type of collaboration is not possible in other states, although he would like to see this change.
“In the state of Florida, through Smile Faith, they can get a temporary license that we can come in and work with these patients. Not every state can do that and that’s why it’s so valuable. here,” he said.
IDS biotech is the group that provides the equipment and supplies for implants. Steven Pfefer, the vice president of sales, said he didn’t realize how much a partnership with Smile Faith would mean until he came to meet veterans.
“I think the Smith Faith organization is unique and I would love to see it replicated in other parts of the country or just expanded from this place to other places across the country,” he said.
Smile Faith has a second location in Kentucky.
On Thursday, about 15-20 veterans came and the students placed about 70-80 implants. Friday was a similar story.
“We really need to honor the veterans who have kept us, our country as it is today and the freedoms we have, and to be able to work with those veterans is truly an honor,” said Dr. McRae.
To donate to Smile Faith Foundation, Click here.