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Washington State Dental Association

Dr. Cheng's veteran's program continues to grow

When WSDA member dentist Dr. Theresa Cheng started her veteran’s program back in 2007, she never realized her program would touch so many lives in so many different areas of the United States. Back then, she just wanted to give back after reading the horrific account of Rory Dunn, a U.S. soldier who nearly died after being hit by an IED in Fallujah, and returned to the states to find he had no insurance. Upon discovering that many returning veterans and their families had little or no insurance, Cheng set out to open her practice a day a year to any vet needing dental work. She was able to persuade many of her cohorts to donate their time as well, and the program grew over the years. Today, she estimates they’ve helped some 200 veterans and their families, which may not seem like a lot, but Cheng explains, saying, “Our numbers aren’t very large because we’re not just doing an occasional filling or extraction. We provide comprehensive care for the veterans we see.”

Then, in 2011, while serving as a host at the PNDC, Cheng met Dr. Elizabeth Bakeman, a speaker from Michigan. She recalls, “I realized she lived in or near Muskegon, where I had a qualified Iraq war veteran. I approached her with just the very basic information and she agreed to help. She did a fabulous job with the veteran.” The vet, Garth Dalson, recounts how it changed his life in a letter to Drs. Cheng and Bakeman, saying, “I can not thank both of you enough. My life is so much happier. A smile says a lot about people. You both have given me so much in terms of confidence. I cannot express how happy I am with my smile right now. I look forward to brushing my teeth and flossing now!!! I walk around smiling! I didn't even show my teeth and smile big for my wedding pictures. It has changed a lot in my life. Dr Bakemen is extremely dedicated to her work. Thank you both so much for everything you’re doing.”

Cheng has now facilitated the care for veterans in Washington, Oregon, N. Carolina, Florida, and Massachusetts, and she’s willing to help out in any area where qualified war veterans are in need. Recently, she reached out to dentists in Arizona, where she has been getting more requests for dental work. Because of her tenacity, her program was highlighted in the Arizona state Association’s magazine, and she’s starting to network with dentists in that state. “For some reason,” she explains, “we have had numerous requests lately from Arizona.” One such request was from a veteran named “Mac,” who was seen by local dentist Dr. Taylor Kim. Kim recently reported back to Cheng about the vet’s care, saying “He has gone through multiple treatments including fillings, extractions and root canal therapy and now is stable awaiting a couple of bridge preps (waiting for the tissue to heal). I expect he'll be finished in 4-5 months and I'm looking forward to his transformation. We appreciate the opportunity to serve our heroes and it's my honor to be part of your efforts.”

Cheng and her friends are making a difference in the lives of veterans, but she hastens to point out that the veterans aren’t the only ones who benefit from the innovative program, saying, “We have so many wonderful stories from the dentists who help veterans.  Because of the comprehensive care delivered to the vets, our dentists really get to bond, unlike when dentists are simply addressing an urgent need. The experience provides much healing for the veteran and tremendous satisfaction for the dentists. Because of their fantastic experiences working with veterans, many dentists are repeat providers.”

We hope you will be inspired by Dr. Cheng’s selfless gift to war veterans. If you would like more information about this innovative program (no matter where you live), please contact Dr. Cheng at drcheng2014@gmail.com.

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