Local veterans who are struggling with painful dental problems are now getting some much needed help. Area dentists and surgeons have formed their own army to give back to those who served our country.
Salute to Smiles is a brand new program where ten area dental offices have teamed up to choose six deserving veterans to receive long overdue procedures that will dramatically improve their lives.
Michael Schuenke of Little Suamico served 23 years in the Air Force and Navy. He spent time in Japan, Korea and at the Pentagon. Now retired, he's frustrated by the lack of dental care for veterans.
"I would say 90% of the veterans today don't have dental insurance," he explained. "Unless you had some service-connected injury to your jaw or teeth or your mouth, that's the only way that you're covered under the VA."
Michael only went to the dentist when the pain became unbearable. "I had one chewing tooth left, and I would chew with my front teeth."
When he heard about Salute to Smiles, he applied, and became one of six veterans accepted into the program.
"Having three of our own oral surgeons here on staff being veterans themselves, we just kind of knew that's where we wanted to go," said Katie Vande Voort, Bay Oral Surgery and Implant Center Office Manager and Salute to Smiles Coordinator.
Before Dr. David LeMoine came to work at Bay Oral as a surgeon, he served several years in the U.S. Army, which took him to Bosnia and Germany. He says giving free restorative dental care is a great opportunity to honor his comrades.
"It's really nice to be able to give back to the veterans. They've served so much and they came back with not so warm a reception from the Vietnam time."
Michael, who served during the Vietnam War era, is now in the middle of a four month oral treatment plan that will include dentures, an implant, and crowns. He's already noticed a big difference.
"Out in public, I smile more. I feel more confident. Going into a restaurant and just ordering anything I want from the menu, and I'm not worrying about whether it's too hard to eat or is it soft enough. "
Seeing his patients regain their confidence and quality of life, makes it all worthwhile for Dr. LeMoine. "It's just heartwarming, that's all. It's very nice to do."
Michael is incredibly appreciative for the compassion and excellent care. "I've got a lot of years to go and now they're going to be a lot happier."
And it's all because of veterans helping veterans.
Many of the dental procedures would normally cost thousands of dollars, but thanks to Salute to Smiles, the chosen veterans will never see a bill.