New Smiles for Veterans program offers free dental care for veterans

Dennis Matthews has started a program to help veterans with free dental care, St. George, Utah, Aug. 14, 2018 | Photo by Ryan Rees, St. George News

ST. GEORGE— Vietnam veteran Dennis Matthews found a cause he could sink his teeth into two years ago.

“I woke up in the middle of the night two nights in a row with this idea to help veterans,” he said.

That idea led him to create, with his son Daniel, New Smiles for Veterans, a nonprofit organization to provide free dental care for veterans.

“Unless you’re homeless or 100 percent disabled, you can’t get dental care from the Veterans Administration,” Matthews recently told St. George News. “A lot of veterans aren’t aware of our program and how we can help.”

Matthews drove from his home near Ephraim to St. George to the veterans center where a benefits fair was being conducted by the Veterans Benefits Administration.

“I helped one guy this morning who wasn’t aware of the help that’s available. As it turned out, he’s 100 percent disabled and can get help through the VA instead of us, but that’s okay because he’s getting help he didn’t know he could get,” Matthews said.

“I’m 60 percent disabled, and I can’t get help from the VA,” he added.

To make his program work, he enlists help from dentists around the state who offer free dental care. He works with local American Legion posts to let them know about his program and also uses the internet to contact dentists and dental organizations.

In St. George, he is working with Thomas Robinson and is seeking more dentists in St. George and Cedar City to participate.

“We have dentists all along the Wasatch Front who are working with us,” Matthews said. “We’re trying to reach out to some of the more remote areas.”

He does receive some financial help from the Utah Department of Health’s dental health division. This year, he has received $60,000 that is used judiciously for more serious dental needs.

“We guard that (funding) very carefully,” he said. “We send the state a list every three months of our work and then, they send us a check as needed.”

Matthews said that cleaning is step one.

“From there it can lead to more help with cavities or other problems,” he said. “Dental care is the gateway to good health.”

Matthews’ idea has caught on in other areas of the country as well with similar programs. Some offer one-day help with other needs such as clothing, housing or rehabilitation as well as dental care.

“Some of them may have started before us, but that’s alright,” he said. “The more help we can get for our veterans, the better.”

For more information or to offer help, visit his website or call 435-851-3317.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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