By Dwayne Rider, Army MedicineAugust 16, 2012
If you're a dentist, everyone that sits in your chair has a story. Sometimes, it's more than what they saw on TV, or the ball game. Sometimes, the story can span back 70 years ago to a time of a world at war.
Sixteen million, one hundred twelve thousand five hundred and sixty six individuals wore our nation's uniform at the conclusion of this major conflict, and the numbers are quickly dwindling. Someday, they won't be with us anymore. That makes the veteran patient in your dentist chair very unique.
Dr. Joel Strom, D.D.S., M.S., believes everyone should show some type of appreciation for those military service members who have been tagged as "The Greatest Generation." Dr. Strom provides free cancer screenings, oral examinations, root canals, oral surgeries, and routine restorative care for as many WWII veterans as he can.
"I believe we fail to show the gratitude and respect they deserve. They don't ask for it, but let's face it, these heroes of the Second World War are a group of veterans who deserve our respect," said Dr. Strom. "We should do something. We must do something."
After putting together a show of appreciation called "Dentistry United for WWII Vets" during the week of Veterans Day in 2006, Dr. Strom promoted his own personal Dentistry United for WWII Vets and now provides free dentistry for about 20 WWII veterans annually.
He has partnered with the organization called Operation Military Support and has a vision to expand this service nation-wide. Much of what Operation Military Support does depends on the participations of other dental organizations. To support the WW II Veteran a dentist must give freely his or her time and the cost of materials.
"One vet told me he had jumped in to a war zone on D-Day eve and 44 of the 48 guys died (The classic film "The Longest Day" was based on his paratrooper unit.). After our hygienist had completed his regular cleaning and he was about to leave, I thought, I can't charge this guy. How could I charge him for a routine dental cleaning? I went out to the office area and told him, 'There would be no charge.' He started weeping and called us heroes. Can you believe that, he called us heroes?"
It was then Dr. Strom discussed with his staff the idea of giving any WWII veteran a brighter smile.
Getting the word out for his program was first quite literally, by word of mouth. After a while it became more organized. It caught on, and now he has reached his maximum capacity on the number of patients he can help. However, he hopes that other dentists will consider giving their time freely to this cause. He is looking for others to help out.
"… I would like dentists across the country, border to border to donate their services to WWII veterans in their area." He said.
The Veterans Administration can only help if the patient's dental problems are service connected. Many World War II veterans are advanced in years. These are a group of people that are notoriously 'tight-lipped.' They will not ask for help, and it is up to you to offer.
Dr. Strom's idea has been supported by major entertainers from the TV Show Host Monty Hall, "Let's Make a Deal", to the actor Gary Sinise, "Forest Gump".
If you are a dentist you have a chance to make a difference. Put together an office program. If you can't do a robust program, one World War II veteran taken on by your own personal program can make a difference. Colonel Theresa Gonzales, Communications Director for the Office of the Surgeon General contends that "volunteers are the lifeblood of our nation. They improve people's lives, unite our communities, and strengthen our democracy. What unites us as Americans is working together toward common goals -- it is part of our national character".
Your office gossip could change from less discussion of 'reality TV' to the reality of the South Pacific or the Battle of the Bulge. Be prepared for a few war stories and savor this opportunity to connect in a meaningful way with a bona fide member of the greatest generation.