Military personnel dodge bullets and roadside bombs on a daily basis, so it’s easy to understand if they don’t have the time to floss or brush their teeth properly when they’re deployed in combat. When those veterans transition back to civilian life by attending OTC, they have a great resource to keep their pearly whites in shape. Dental hygiene students at Ozarks Technical Community College offer student veterans free preventive dental care, while the dental students earn invaluable clinical hours.
“It’s a small way of giving back,” said Rebecca Caceres, dental hygiene program director at OTC. “The veterans are trying to improve their lives. They are making a life change from the military to civilian life and this is a good way to give them some help along the way.”
It was Caceres who came up with the idea two years ago after a student veteran came in for routine dental care.
“He couldn’t afford it. I decided to comp him the services and I have continued to comp services to vets,” she said.
“I think it’s great. People need to be told about it. I wasn’t aware of the services. I came over to the Veterans Lounge about a year ago and heard about it,” he said.
While Collier has his own private dentist, he comes to the clinic as a service to the dental students who need their clinical hours.
“They needed the practical experience so I’m offering myself for them to get that experience,” he said.
The clinic is located in Lincoln Hall and is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Veterans can book an appointment by calling 447-8835. The services include examinations, deep cleanings, radiographs of their teeth and the veteran patients receive dental care products.
“Many veterans aren’t seeing anybody for dental care. They may end up going to the Veterans Affairs clinic in some cases, but, oftentimes, they don’t get any care,” Caceres said.
“Everyone seems to appreciate the availability of this service, and some of my people have come over for a cleaning,” he said.
Caceres said if a dental student has an opening on their schedule, they sometimes go to the lounge in the Norman K. Myers building to ask if any veterans would like to use the service.
Paige Herbert, a second-year hygienist student, said she likes giving back to the veterans.
“It’s a really good program. The vets have done us a service by helping our country and now we can help them,” she said.
Katie Coots, another hygiene student, said the ability to provide cleanings for the veterans is a mutually beneficial relationship.
“It’s super helpful for us to get the opportunity to clean their teeth, and they are appreciative of it,” she said. “We can give them a little extra gesture of thanks with some preventive dental care instead of just saying ‘thanks’.”