Illinois Dentists Salute Veterans
Dentists give back, helping veterans who gave to country through serviceBy Joanna Brown
“There was a woman, younger men and older men, and they were all so appreciative,” Dr. Skerrett said. “Some hadn’t seen any kind of dentist in a while – some didn’t have the means to – but they were all so grateful to be here this morning. They all hugged me, and that was awesome.”
In the dental clinic at Midwestern University in Downers Grove on a Saturday morning, dentist Kelly Skerrett was overcome by the reaction of the patients she treated.
Dr. Skerrett was one of more than 300 dentists statewide who participated in Illinois Dentists Salute. The inaugural program of the Illinois State Dental Society paired 1,400 Illinois veterans with participating dentists in their communities on Nov. 10 and 11 for dental exams and other procedures at no cost.
At Midwestern University, a team of 25 faculty members and 66 student volunteers waited to see 89 patients. Four dentists and a team of students and auxiliary staff waited for 12 patients a few miles away at the CDS Foundation Clinic in Wheaton.
Among those at the CDS Foundation Clinic was Darryl, a 58-year-old U.S. Army veteran who heard about the event through his job at Hines VA Hospital, and Raymond, a 72-year-old U.S. Navy veteran who read about the event in the newspaper and came for treatment with his 130-pound service dog beside him. Wheaton Mayor Michael Gresk stopped in to welcome and thank the veterans.
“I’ve had teeth pulled before, but never this pain-free,” Darryl said with dentist Dean Nicholas chairside. “I hope they do this again because I’ll be back, and I’ll get as many people as I can to come with me.”
The dentists who provided care Saturday were similarly pleased to be working with the veterans. Tom Schneider has long known that many veterans struggle with health care upon their return from service, and was eager to help them in whatever way they needed Saturday.
“I want to learn their concerns first today, and then I can say to the patient, ‘let me see if I can help you with this.’ One guy wanted to know how best to brush his teeth because no one had ever taught him, so we talked about that for a while. And it was great.”
Dr. Schneider continued, “This event is a beautiful opportunity for our veterans to get access to the resources they need, and we hope that they have a good experience today and that they can follow up on it.”
“These veterans served our country and sacrificed for us,” said Midwestern University volunteer dentist Joe Sperlazzo. “They should feel today how much we care about them, and how hard we have tried to provide the best care possible. We are thankful for their service, and we are here if they need to come back.”
Illinois Dentists Salute co-founder Brad Barnes was thankful for all the effort put forth by volunteers.
“No one knew what to expect when we started talking about this event many months ago, but it was neat that so many people trusted us and wanted to participate, and I think it was gratifying for them to treat the folks that they did,” he said.
“By doing this, the veterans got care that they otherwise would not have gotten, and at no change. And by doing it we also called attention statewide to the needs of our veterans, and that will spread.”See photos of Veterans Day volunteer activities.