Dental School to Help Homeless Veterans

Dr. Karen Yoder

INDIANAPOLIS -- The IU School of Dentistry will help unemployed homeless veterans in Indianapolis overcome a barrier that often stands in the way of a job.

School faculty, assisted by dental students, will make the veterans more employable by giving them the kind of dental appearance needed for jobs in the public eye, said Karen Yoder, director of civic engagement and health policy and a professor of preventive and community dentistry.

“A person without front teeth, for example, is likely to find it difficult to be hired for a job in a restaurant,” she said.

Yoder applied for and received a $12,000 grant from the Dental Pipeline National Learning Institute for the dental project. The funds will be used to cover the costs of dental laboratory and oral surgery fees.  Timothy Carlson, a faculty member in the School of Dentistry, is working with Yoder on this project

The idea of the dental project began with Jude Wilkinson, a fiscal officer and industrial liaison in the School of Dentistry. Wilkinson, whose son is a Navy veteran, asked Yoder last summer if she had ever thought about starting a dental program for veterans.

“When Dr. Yoder researched the limited dental care that many veterans receive, she immediately took on this project,” Wilkinson said.

Writing in support of funding for the program, Winnie Wilson, manager of the IUPUI Office for Veterans and Military Personnel, said, “One of the gaps in community health care resources available to veterans is free or affordable dental care. Needless to say, poor dental health is even more prevalent in the homeless veterans’ community.”

The initiative pairs the dental school with the Hoosier Veterans Assistance Foundation, a United Way nonprofit organization, providing transitional housing and basic needs to veterans and their families.

Working with case managers at Hoosier Veterans Assistance Foundation shelters in Indianapolis, faculty, assisted by students, will begin this month selecting veterans who seem most likely to get hired and maintain their employment.

“Our goal is not to make anyone glamorous, just aesthetically prepared for a job interview,” Yoder said.

If a medical evaluation is needed before beginning dental services, veterans selected for the program who don’t have health care resources will be referred to IU School of Medicine’s student-run, faculty-supported Student Outreach Clinic. 

Criteria for the dental program include official discharge documentation, a previous record of employment and a desire to become employed; participants must also agree to align with a social service agency that supports learning and maintain personal qualities that tend to sustain employment.