Atlanta VA Health Care System
Giving Vets Something to Smile About
The Atlanta VA Dental Clinic serves our veterans through compassionate care to meet their dental needs. The dental clinic offers qualified veterans extensive care that includes comprehensive exams/x-rays for new patients, restorative work, crowns, bridges, root canals, periodontics, hygiene care, implants, and oral surgery.
The majority of patients seen in the dental clinic are 100% service-connected veterans that qualify for full dental care at the VA. Other groups that are eligible for complete dental care include former Prisoners of War, and those with a service-connected compensable dental disability or condition. Limited care is provided to OEF/OIF veterans who apply for dental care within 180 days of discharge, vocational rehabilitation patients, and homeless veterans. A full listing of eligibility criteria can be obtained from dental eligibility.
The growth of the dental clinic mirrors the tremendous growth the Atlanta VAMC has experienced over the past several years. The dental clinic treated over 7,400 unique patients in Fiscal Year 2011, with a total of 19,877 visits during this time frame. The clinic’s number of unique patients grew at a rate of 9% in 2011, and has increased 35% from 2008-2011.
Despite the large increase in patients, the dental clinic continues to provide quality care to Veterans and strives to provide exceptional service to Veterans in improving their dental health.
Dr. Julia Comer, a staff dentist and Assistant Chief of the dental clinic, talked about how a healthy mouth means more than a pretty smile. “Good dental health can be important to your well being. Studies have suggested there may be a link between poor oral health and increased risk for stroke, heart disease and complications with diabetes.”
Dr. Comer added that restoring the oral health and restoring a smile can be a life changing experience for our veterans. “I have seen patients who are quite discouraged improve their lives dramatically after receiving dental treatment.
Often, when you transform a broken-down dentition, it positively affects the veteran emotionally as well as physically. I love my job. To be able to give something back to the veterans is a privilege and is very rewarding.”
Arthur Huntley, Kenneth Neal, Steven Kempshall, and James Barnett are lab technicians in the dental clinic, and they make various dental appliances such as dentures, partials, crowns, bridges, and fluoride trays. They also work with prosthetics/ENT to make prostheses for cancer patients. Mr. Huntley talked about a case where a patient with cancer had to have his nose and upper lip removed. The laboratory department worked with prosthetics to fabricate an appliance that would attach to his facial prosthesis. “When I see a veteran receive teeth that I made and they smile, it makes me happy,” said Mr. Huntley.
“It makes me proud that I am able to make their life a little better.”
Lab technician Steven Kempshall shared a story of a patient dying of cancer who had not been able to eat. The veteran made a request for a set of dentures so he could eat a decent meal, and the dental lab expedited his case and quickly delivered this to the veteran to meet his request.Employees in the dental clinic agree that they receive a great deal of satisfaction in working with veterans.
“You’re always learning something from the veterans,” said Dr. Kesanet Gebrekidan, a staff dentist. “They come with unique experiences, and they’re always appreciative for being treated.”
Peggie Mathis, a dental assistant, stated “I enjoy working on the veterans. I’m thankful for them and I enjoy listening to their experiences.”