If you've recently returned stateside from a lengthy overseas deployment in a combat zone, having a dental checkup may be fairly low on your list of priorities. However, taking action to preserve your dental health shortly after your return can help you avoid major dental problems later down the road. What should you know about seeking dental care after a combat deployment? If you need extensive dental work, will you be able to use military benefits to pay for it? Read on to learn more about some veteran-specific dental issues and assistance.
What types of dental issues may you be facing after a return from combat?
While is it possible to return to the U.S. from an overseas assignment with no new cavities, gum erosion, or other dental issues, there are some challenges to dental care during time spent in combat that you may not have experienced during your civilian life.
Most public water supplies in the U.S. are fluoridated -- that is, during the water filtration and purification process, a small amount of fluoride is added to help prevent cavities and fortify your dental enamel. When you drink this fluoridated water, some of the fluoride remains in your mouth, where the swirling of saliva helps it coat your teeth and encourage enamel regrowth.
Other countries may not go to the effort to fluoridate their public water supplies, and the bottled water supplied to you and your fellow soldiers in combat zones is often fluoride-free as well. As a result, you may find that your teeth no longer have that extra protection against cavities and may be more vulnerable to decay until you can regain regular access to fluoridated water.
Maintaining proper dental hygiene can also be challenging when you're in a combat situation. Sticking to a regular schedule and making time for brushing and flossing several times per day may take a back seat to other, more pressing issues of survival. You may also suffer extensive damage to your teeth or gums if you're struck by artillery fire or involved in an IED explosion. In other cases, emotional trauma like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could interfere with maintenance of your oral health even after you've gotten out of the danger zone.
How can you pay for your post-deployment dental care and treatment?
If you suspect you need more than just a dental cleaning upon your return from deployment, you may be wondering how you'll be able to afford the care you need. Fortunately, the federal government has provided some special dental benefits for veterans and military members to help defray some of your dental expenses.
For those whose dental issues are directly related to combat or deployment, such as an injury that knocked out teeth or dislocated your jaw, your dental care expenses (including any required follow-up care or even hospitalization or surgery) should be fully covered by the Veterans Administration (VA). You may also be eligible for VA dental coverage if you're involved in a rehabilitation or work training program and your teeth are visibly damaged enough that they may inhibit your job opportunities.
Even if you're not eligible for VA dental care because your dental issues aren't sufficiently tied to your deployment, you'll usually be able to obtain low-cost dental insurance through one of the VA's approved dental insurance providers. This insurance should provide coverage for most of the dental treatment you need, requiring you to pay only a small monthly premium and a copay for any visits. While you'll need to ensure a dentist or care provider is "in network" to take advantage of negotiated discount rates, you won't be limited to VA dentists or hospitals when seeking care.
For more information about low-cost dental care, such as Veteran discounts or other payment options, contact a local dentist such as Tony Parsley, DMD.