New Smiles for Veterans
Personal experience prompts Mayfield vet to launch statewide dental program
MAYFIELD—A Vietnam veteran from Mayfield has dedicated himself to putting smiles on the faces of his fellow veterans.
Last year, Dennis Matthews founded New Smiles For Veterans with the mission, as he puts it of “providing United States veterans with much needed dental care, which is not sufficiently provided through the Office of Veteran’s Affairs.”
“We started this to help veterans get the dental care they need,” Matthews said. “Some dental work is available to veterans during their active service, but with the VA hospital, after you’re out of the military, you don’t get any dental help at all.”
Matthews and his sons, Daniel and Andrew, got the nonprofit going and received full recognition as a 501(c)3 from the IRS in November 2016.
Dennis got the idea from personal experience. “I am a Vietnam vet,” Dennis Matthews said. “Through the years, I have had to have some work on my teeth, and sometimes you just can’t afford it, and so you let it go longer than you should. My dental issues got me on the idea of starting something to help all vets.”
Matthews says all of the veterans he has interviewed have admitted to needing dental care, often of a serious and expensive nature—and most of them can’t afford it.
Matthews says there are several components of the New Smiles program.
The first and principal component is arranging for dentists across the state to “adopt a veteran.”
Matthews asks dentists to commit to providing free dental care to one veteran per month—only the dentists he has asked have ended up being more enthusiastic about the idea than Matthews ever dreamed.
Since beginning to recruit dental professionals, Matthews has approached eight dentists, and he says all of them were glad to participate. In fact, Matthews says, they were often willing to help more than one veteran per month, saving some veterans upwards of $1,000 on desperately-needed dental care.
“They don’t stop with one veteran a month,” Matthews said. “When they finish, they take another one as soon as they can fit them in.”
Matthews says he and his son, Daniel, plan to contact every one of the 600-plus dentists in Utah to encourage their involvement with the program.
Matthews personally drives from one dental office to another, talking to each dentist about the opportunity to make a contribution toward veterans in need. And he says not one dentist has turned him down so far.
“When Dennis approached me about the program I was happy to participate,” said Wes Thompson, DDS, at Ephraim Family Dental Center, one of the participating clinics. “It’s been rewarding working with the veterans and Dennis. I hope the project continues to grow and more dental clinics are willing to support the veterans and help pay them back for their service to their country.”
Another component of the New Smiles for Veterans program is an arrangement Matthews made with the dental hygiene program at the University of Utah to offer free teeth cleaning to all Utah veterans.
“That by itself is a big deal,” Matthews said. “There are more than 150,000 veterans in Utah alone.”
Matthews, who is 60 percent disabled from his service in Vietnam, has so far been paying for all the administration and travel costs out of his pocket, all the while looking for support through other avenues. Recently, he says he has had some financial commitments from the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Until the nonprofit can get more outside help with its operational costs, Matthews is arranging some grass-roots fundraising efforts in Sanpete County. The first of the fundraising events is a bowling tournament at Sno-Cap Lanes on Feb. 18 at 11 a.m.
The bowling tournament has an entry fee of $25. You can register online at the nonprofit’s website, newsmilesforveterans.org, or in person at Sno-CapLanes. Matthews says there will be door prizes and a first-place prize for the winner of the bowling tournament.
“Come join us to help benefit veterans,” Matthews said, “and have some fun while you’re at it, as well as a chance to win some prizes.”
Matthews says he is looking for more dentists to help out, as well as donations for operations and travel costs. Matthews can be contacted at 851-3317 or at email@example.com.
Further information can be found at newssmilesforveterans.org.