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The Connection Between Veteran Mental Health and Oral Health

So it's Mental Health Awareness Month and Military Appreciation Month, and our team just dove into learning all about the connection between veteran mental health and oral health through a webinar we watched on The American Institute of Dental Public Health's website.

The connection between a veteran's oral health and mental health is substantial and it is so important for not only all dentists and administrative staff out there to understand this, but especially for our team here at our free dental clinic serving U.S. military veterans and low-wage earning adults in Bucks and Montgomery Counties.

Here's What We Learned:

Veterans are a unique population, and how we support them from the initial contact through their dental treatment is so important. Often times veterans feel embarrassed or anxious surrounding their dental needs or appearance of their teeth, and incorporating trauma informed care can be life changing for a veteran, or for anyone who has experienced trauma.

What is Trauma Informed Care?

The National Center for PTSD reported that in 2018 up to 20 percent of recent servicemembers have been diagnosed with PTSD - and that is just those who have been diagnosed.

The Center also estimates that as many as 30 percent of Vietnam War Veterans have suffered from PTSD in their lifetime. This is where trauma informed care seeks to change things.

According to the webinar, interpersonal violence, sexual assault, childhood abuse, and being exposed to combat are extremely common in our population, and it is because of this that organizations across the country are trying to advocate for more healthcare agencies to incorporate trauma informed care into staff trainings and everyday practices.

Because of this trauma, veterans may struggle with fear and anxiety during their dental appointment and dentists should do the following trauma informed care practices to make them feel as welcome and comfortable as possible:

  1. Veterans should be encouraged to discuss their mental health needs with their dentists and the team. Open communication like this can make sure the veteran feels as comfortable as possible, allowing for the best outcome from their appointment.

  2. Encourage veterans to use breathing techniques to help them relax their bodies and mind. Controlled breathing can help stop racing thoughts and reduce stress, and practicing mindfulness can help them stay in the present moment.

  3. Help veterans with positive self-talk during their appointments. This boosts confidence, self-esteem, and the feeling of safety and security.

  4. Help create a calm and comforting space for veterans - playing soothing music, using aromatherapy, or playing their favorite TV program.

All of these things help provide a sense of distraction and help veterans stay grounded during their appointment and more likely to return.

Expressing Gratitude and Social Connection

Because veterans often isolate when experiencing mental health issues, the social connection their dentists provide can be life changing. The webinar states that showing gratitude to veterans and a true commitment to those who have served, and not just on Veterans Day, can make a huge difference in the experience a veteran has.

What Can You Do?

Whether you are a patient of our clinic or not, whether you are a veteran or not, you can join us in advocating for our veterans by sharing this blog post. You never know who you might be able to reach by doing something as simple as sharing this great information. It might just be seen by a veteran who very much needed it in that moment - and we might just be able to help them here in our free clinic.

We are always happy to answer any questions and help you get started with the application process to become a patient! Give us a call at 215-364-4247.


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