Red, pearly whites and blue
Local dentists honor veterans with free care
When Dr. Kevin Kremer was completing dentistry training, he worked hands-on at the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Medical Center, near his dental school, UCLA. He hadn’t served in the military, but both grandfathers fought in World War II, and various uncles and cousins served.
During that VA rotation, he saw the demand for dentistry and “how much care our veterans require.” That experience, Kremer said, was “enlightening.”
Veterans in the North State are no different. Their need is great as well. Two years ago, he decided to do something about it.
Kremer, who has two offices in Chico, signed on to the Freedom Day USA campaign to offer free dental care for veterans. Kremer Dental Group opened its Glenbrook Court office doors at 7 a.m. Oct. 11 and, over the course of the day, treated over 50 veterans, servicemembers and family members at that north Chico location.
Dr. Brent Parrott had the same idea, independently. He also has two offices, Oroville Gentle Dentistry and Paradise Gentle Dentistry. Parrott established a free dental day for veterans four years ago, coinciding with Veterans’ Day; this year’s is Friday (Nov. 9) in Oroville, starting at 8 a.m. (see infobox). Parrott’s team gave care to approximately 70 veterans last year—in total, around 300.
“I just have always felt that we have what we have because of our veterans,” Parrott said by phone. “I don’t have any family that this relates to; I just have gotten frustrated that they have made the ultimate sacrifice and they did not get the service[s] that they need. So if there’s something I can do to help, I do.”
Mike Halldorson, commander of VFW Post 1555 (Chico’s chapter of the service organization Veterans of Foreign Wars), expressed appreciation for their efforts.
“I just think it’s a wonderful thing they’re doing to help our veterans, ones [who] need dental care who may put it off or not get it,” he said. “Not all veterans are eligible [for VA dental benefits]—this is a huge thing these dentists are doing.”
The VA provides dental services at clinics in Chico, Redding and Sacramento. Nonetheless, both Kremer and Parrott say veterans often must wait for appointments. Moreover, not all qualify for dental care. They and Halldorson eagerly anticipate the comprehensive health center under construction in Meriam Park, scheduled to open in April.
“If our veterans can be serviced better than they are now, that’s a win-win,” Kremer said, “and we’ll be happy to fill in any voids.”
The dentists pack a lot of care into veterans dental days. Kremer and Parrott mobilize their entire staffs—dentists, hygienists, dental assistants, front office—from both locations. Parrott only uses the Oroville office, not Paradise, because it is larger; considering he’s seen veterans come from Corning, Grass Valley and the Sacramento area, he said the Ridge doesn’t seem that far to travel.
What he offers is “anything that doesn’t require a lab bill” because Parrott “is not going to obligate a lab or somebody else—this is something we do.” That still covers a gamut: cleanings, exams, fillings, extractions, root canals and crowns.
Kremer provides those same services but, since he’s partnered with Vogel Dental Laboratory in Chico, also can get repairs on removable partial dentures. Those patients returned another day for refitting—again, all free.
Both practices draw veterans of all ages: as young as 20, as old as 96. Needs vary, just as with patients on normal business days.
“We can see some pretty advanced cases,” Kremer said. “Military cases can be variable from people who have maintained their care and just need simple checkups and cleanings [to] people where there was definitely a lot of work to be done.”
Last month, Kremer Dental Group marshaled four dentists and 10 hygienists and dental assistants. At Parrott’s upcoming clinic, Oroville Gentle Dentistry will have four dentists and a dozen hygienists/assistants; plus, however many former co-workers return to lend a hand.
“Everybody who does it wants to come back,” Parrott said. “I’ve had associates who’ve gone to their own practices ask, ‘Can we come back and work with you on Veterans’ Day?’ That’s how fun it is.”
All work for free.
“It’s the favorite day of dentistry the entire year,” he continued. “The excitement starts to build as we get through Halloween, about a week out…. People show up early, just for fun, just to make sure everything is ready to roll.”
Kremer’s crew gets the same anticipation, with some telling him they can’t sleep the night before and others waking hours early.
Before creating his event, Parrott participated in a dental day that accommodated veterans first-come, first-served. He discovered he prefers appointments. Parrott has found service members respect the times they reserve and likewise “deserve more respect than waiting to be taken care of.”
Parrott has been struck by veterans’ esprit de corps. Many come in uniform or military garb. Mutual respect spans all branches, not just within the same branch of service.
“Everybody is trying to let everybody else go first,” Parrott noted. “They all understand it’s not just them we’re helping—we’re helping everybody—and the faster we can get to everybody, the more people we can help.”
Kremer, who doesn’t request appointments for Freedom Day USA, said many veterans are in no hurry. They’ll stay for hours, enjoying refreshments and sharing stories.
“The sense of connection they get, and the camaraderie, is pretty cool.”