IU delivers holiday present for homeless veterans

By - Bad Breath Expert

SUMMARY:  Indiana University helps homeless veterans find a job by improving their dental appearance. See what you can do to help!

Posted: December 19, 2013

presents veterans dental health

In the holiday spirit, students and faculty from the Indiana University launched a new project that helps homeless veterans find a job by improving their dental health.

Karen Yoder, director of civic engagement and health policy and a professor of preventative and community dentistry at the Indiana University School of Dentistry, received a $12,000 grant from the Dental Pipeline National Learning Institute for the dental project. The funds will be allocated toward the costs of a dental laboratory and oral surgery fees. 

Often, the appearance of poor oral health can become a tremendous barrier to overcome for unemployed homeless veterans.

"A person without front teeth, for example, is likely to find it difficult to be hired for a job in a restaurant," Yoder explained in an IU press release.

The initiative teamed up with the Hoosier Veterans Assistance Foundation, a United Way nonprofit organization that provides basic needs and transitional housing to veterans and their families. The idea behind the project started with Jude Wilkinson, an industrial liaison in the school of dentistry. Wilkinson's son, who is a Navy veteran, asked him if she had ever considered starting a dental program for veterans.

Currently there are approximately 610,000 homeless people living in America, according to National Public Radio. Among those, 13 percent are veterans. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, American veterans become homeless for several reasons, including disability, mental challenges or a lack of affordable health care. In fact, dental care consistently ranks among the top three unmet needs for homeless veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Homeless individuals stand as one of the most at-risk populations for cavities, gingivitis and other oral health problems.

"One of the gaps in community health care resources available to veterans is free or affordable dental care," Winnie Wilson, manager of Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis Office for Veterans and Military Perssonel, said in the release. "Needless to say, poor dental health is even more prevalent in the homeless veterans' community."

Missing teeth, gum disease and toothaches may limit an individual's ability to successfully get hired. Yet studies show that after receiving treatment, veterans report a significant improvement in oral and general health, and overall self-esteem.

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

Faculty, assisted by students, will work with case managers at the foundation's shelters in Indianapolis to begin selecting veterans who seem most likely to get hired gain employment.

What a good smile can do
Having stains or rotten teeth can impact not only appearance but also self-confidence. Based on a study conducted by Oral-B, healthy white teeth make you look 20 percent more attractive, and can increase your employment potential by 10 percent. Never underestimate the power of a smile.

"Our goal is not to make anyone glamorous, just aesthetically prepared for a job interview," Yoder explained.

Veterans selected for the IU program, if medical evaluations are needed, will be referred to the university's school of medicine student-run, faculty-supported Student Outreach Clinic. The criteria for the dental program include official discharge documentation, a desire to become employed as well as previous employment history. Participants must also agree to work with a social service agency that helps sustain employment.

How to help 
Even if you don't live in Indiana, you can be a part of the movement! Homeless shelters are constantly in need of toothbrushes and toothpaste. With some winter holidays only days away, there's no better time to help out. Donate toothbrushes, floss, mouthwash and toothpaste to your nearest shelter. All of these things can help reduce cavities, infections, the risk for toothaches and further improve oral health. 

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