Letters to the Editor

Oral Health Care Is an Important Issue for Military Veterans

 

Am Fam Physician. 2020 Apr 15;101(8):452.

Original Article: Care of the Military Veteran: Selected Health Issues

Issue Date: November 1, 2019

Available at: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2019/1101/p544.html

To the Editor: I was impressed with this article on care of military veterans. In addition to issues such as moral injury, posttraumatic stress disorder, and specific exposures, oral health of veterans warrants mention. It is not known exactly how many veterans lack dental care or have poor oral health; however, anecdotally the number appears to be high. In veterans who have serious mental health conditions, 60% have fair to poor oral health, and about 33% find it difficult to eat because of these issues.1 Poor oral health can affect self-esteem, employment opportunities, heart and endocrine health, and overall systemic health. Many veterans do not qualify for dental care from Veterans Affairs unless they have a preexisting dental condition, a disability, or were a prisoner of war. Furthermore, 87% of veterans do not use the Veterans Affairs for any health care.2 In many states, Medicaid does not cover adult dental health, and Medicare provides no dental benefits.

There are programs that can help veterans find dental care. The National Veterans Foundation has a list of veterans who qualify for dental care (https://nvf.org/veterans-dental-care/). There are more than 200 locations for veteran dental services across the United States (https://www.va.gov/DENTAL/Dental-Clinic-Locations-Finder.asp). Everyone for Veterans is a nonprofit organization that has connected hundreds of low-income veterans with dentists for free dental care (https://www.everyoneforveterans.org/). Aspen Dental runs the Healthy Mouth Movement, which has served more than 20,000 veterans with a mobile dental unit and an annual free day of care (https://www.aspendental.com/about/healthy-mouth-movement). Many federally qualified health centers have dental facilities and offer graduated payments based on income to anyone without dental insurance. Some dental schools and dental hygiene schools offer free or reduced-fee services. Finally, family physicians should get to know local dentists to make personalized referrals for veterans who are in need because many private dentists offer pro bono care to individuals.

Author disclosure: No relevant financial affiliations.

References

1. Kilbourne AM, Horvitz-Lennon M, Post EP, et al. Oral health in Veterans Affairs patients diagnosed with serious mental illness. J Public Health Dent. 2007;67(1):42–48.

2. Nelson KM, Starkebaum GA, Reiber GE. Veterans using and uninsured veterans not using Veterans Affairs (VA) health care. Public Health Rep. 2007;122(1):93–100.

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This series is coordinated by Kenny Lin, MD, MPH, Associate Deputy Editor for AFP Online.

 

 

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