Free dental for veterans

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COLUMBIA – Aspen Dental provided veterans with free services in mid-Missouri and across the U.S. Saturday for the Aspen Day of Service.

This is only the fourth annual Day of Service, but according to a press release from Aspen, it has performed nearly $8 million in free dental work for 12,000 patients in that time.

Aspen Dental in Columbia is normally closed on Saturday, but it made an exception for the sole purpose of letting veterans come in for free service.

Between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., Aspen served 15 veterans.

Office Manager Trista Johnson said that’s the average number of veterans Aspen will serve in each in of its roughly 450 locations. Everything Aspen offered today was free, but the services had a time limit.

“For each veteran, we are giving them what we can in 30 minutes,” Johnson said. “Most of the time, it’s an extraction or a filling… there are some things we can’t do the same day, so we will have them come back at later days, if we couldn’t do something for them today.”

Dental coverage can be a problem for veterans. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs provides dental coverage, but only for veterans who are completely disabled, were prisoners of war or have a service-related dental injury. Other than that, veterans can receive dental care until a specific condition is cured or they can receive one treatment if they sign up within 180 days of ending service. That leaves millions of veterans without dental care.

“I missed my dental appointments because I was too short of time in the service, so I had to do my own dentistry,” Veteran Ramon Pagni said. “[The VA] replaced my hips, they take my blood pressure, they do everything, almost, for you. I have no complaints about the veterans’ hospital here.”

The VA just doesn’t provide dental for Pagni. He has to pay for that on his own and it’s expensive. He said that eventually he wasn’t able to afford some of the work he needed for his mouth.

“I had gone to a dentist and he looked at my mouth and he wanted, for one thing they did today, he wanted almost a thousand dollars,” Pagni said. “Where the [expletive] am I going to get a thousand dollars for a tooth to fill? [Aspen] did all this for nothing.”

Pagni is one of the veterans who was only able to get part of a procedure done with the time he had. However, one lucky veteran at each Aspen location will be selected to receive the rest of their procedure for free. The staff will decide who wins after the day is over.

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