A new smile through new dental partnership

Leah T. is anxious to look into the mirror and see a smile full of healthy teeth for the first time in years.

Leah T.
This month, Leah will sit in a chair at the IU School of Dentistry, where she will get a dental examination and treatment, her first in five years, thanks to a new partnership between the School and HVAF. The 44-year-old Army veteran says years of being homeless and having no insurance led her to neglect her teeth.

“Our goal is to help the veterans become more employable by giving them the kind of dental appearance needed for jobs in the public eye,” said Karen Yoder, director of civic engagement and health policy and a professor of preventive and community dentistry.

The School has been working with case managers at HVAF to identify veterans with positive job prospects. The idea is to alleviate pain, improve health and boost self-esteem. Surveys show the first thing people look at is your smile, and these first impressions can create lasting ones.

“A person without front teeth, for example, is likely to find it difficult to be hired for a job in a restaurant,” Yoder said.

Yoder applied for and received a $12,000 grant from the Dental Pipeline National Learning Institute for the HVAF partnership. The IUPUI Solution Center granted an additional $20,000.  The funds will be used to cover the costs of dental laboratory and oral surgery fees. 

When Dr. Yoder researched the limited dental care that many veterans receive, she immediately took on this project.

“Our goal is not to make anyone glamorous, just aesthetically prepared for a job interview,” Yoder said.

“This is a tremendous benefit to our clients and they are all very excited about their upcoming dentistry appointments,” says Bryan Dysert, Director of Programs and Services at HVAF.

Criteria for the dental program include official discharge documentation, a previous record of employment and a desire to become employed. Participants must also agree to align with a social service agency that supports learning and display personal qualities that tend to sustain employment.

Leah is just weeks away from her appointment, but she’s counting down the days on the calendar.

"This will change my look and self-confidence and hopefully land me a new job," she says.

More than ten veterans have already been identified to benefit from dental work through IU.