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One Dental Hygienist's Quest to Make Life Better for our Country's Veterans

KaVo Kerr Connections

KaVo Kerr Team

One Dental Hygienist's Quest to Make Life Better for our Country's Veterans

Dental hygienist, Vicki Munday calls it “a labor of love.” For many veterans in the Seattle area, it’s more than that. It’s a chance to restore their dental health and have someone once again remind them just how important their service was to our country.  Munday started a program called “Smiles for Veterans” that provides dental services to veterans in and around the areas north of Seattle.

From its humble beginnings in 2013, Munday and a team of volunteers are making an impact on many veterans. It’s just one of the reasons why she is being honored as an Everyday Hero as an example of how one person can make a difference in his or her community. Munday first got the idea for “Smiles for Veterans” while working at an event called “Stand Down for Veterans” in Seattle in 2012.

“About two hours into the event, I was asked to do the oral cancer screenings in the area set aside for the female veterans,” Munday recalled. “I listened to their heartbreaking stories of job loss and then becoming homeless. I had itchy fingers (I wanted to be cleaning their teeth) and felt so helpless just doing oral cancer screenings. Many of the veterans just wanted their teeth cleaned.” With that in mind, Munday sprang into action, securing a site, donations and volunteers that could make her vision a reality.

“I left the Stand Down event knowing that the dental community could do more, and should do more, for our veterans in need,” Munday explained. “These amazing people served our country. They served without question, and did so with a ‘Yes, sir!’ and a salute. They gave so that we can enjoy all of the freedoms that come with being American citizens. Providing a day of free dental care seemed like such a small token of thanks.  “We work on this on and off all year long,” Munday continued. “Donations take more time to acquire than volunteers because once people volunteer, they usually come back. They see the difference they can make.”

So how does the day work? Munday explained what a typical Smiles for Veterans day entails.

“The veterans and their family members were greeted, and they filled out forms,” she said. “The guests received thorough head-and-neck exams by the hygienists, a few necessary radiographs, and dental exams. After the determination was made as to what services were most urgent, the patient received a thorough cleaning, including anesthetic if needed. The dentists determined needed restorations and extractions.

“After having their dental needs met, the veterans and family members were escorted back to the ‘goodie’ room the first year where they could pick out a quilt, hat, socks, and gather as many personal hygiene items as they wished. They were also asked to leave a note for the volunteers. We provided both notecards and a poster that could be written on.”

Munday says her goal is to move Smiles for Veterans from an annual event to a monthly event. However, that also means ramping up the activities needed to make that a reality. "We know we can get the volunteers and the veterans, but it’s often about figuring out the transportation. We will load up a van and take it to a homeless shelter if there is a need there or we will bring them to us,” Munday said. “We are getting the word out to churches and homeless shelters as well as VFW and American Legion posts.

“Right now, all we can provide are cleanings, fillings and extractions. It’s providing the veterans with basic care that they often can’t get anywhere else. My hope is that we can team up with a local lab and provide flipper-type partials. So many veterans need this and I hope we can provide it for them very soon.”

But there is more to Smiles for Veterans than just providing smiles. It’s all about providing some of the most basic needs that so many of us take for granted on a daily basis.

“My vision was not only to provide dental care, but also to give veterans and family members necessities as well such as home care items, toothbrush, floss, mouth rinse and other oral aids,” Munday said.  Munday also said this project is a chance for people to show future generations the importance of giving and taking care of others.

“It truly takes a village to put on such an event,” Munday smiled. “One of the hygienists brought three high school girls with her to the event, and one of the dentists brought his children so they could be a part of giving back to these veterans who served our great country.

Does it always go smoothly? No, but Munday and her team handle whatever comes their way with grace and strength.

“No community service project comes off without a glitch or two. We had issues with the couplings on the high-speed drills. Somehow, we managed to pop a breaker on the sterilization equipment, but that was an easy fix.” While Munday is proud of what her vision has become in the Seattle area, she believes this is something that can be done in any area of the United States. “All you need is someone who is willing to start and find some volunteers,” Munday said. “If you have willing people and a location, it can be done. There is always a need.”

One of those volunteers who helps Munday is a Gold Star widow who lost her husband in action four years ago. Another former patient gives of his time and resources by donating pizza for lunch from his restaurant. “There are many ways people can give and be a part of things,” Munday said. “No gift or donation is too small.”

 

If you would like more information on how you could help veterans in your area, Munday encourages you to drop her an email at smiles4veterans@gmail.com.

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