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'I got my smile back' | Veterans help veterans get new teeth and outlook at St. Louis Dental Center

"With Vietnam and stuff, I had post-traumatic stress," one Marine Corps veteran said. "I have anxiety a lot. By not looking your best, that adds on to your anxiety."

ST. LOUIS — It may be cold outside, but inside at the St. Louis Dental Center, they're warming hearts. 

It's veterans helping veterans get their smiles back. 

Some of the patients who fill the seats and some of the doctors and students behind the instruments are veterans.

Dr. Herbert Silva, a Comprehensive Care Unit Director and U.S. Marine, wanted to make sure veterans were on the floor along with patients.

For one D4 Dental Student, Travis Barrett, the work means a lot.

"For vets, it's a personal thing for me I come from a family of veterans to give them that quality of life back," Barrett said. "I may have never met them before, the bond is already there, knowing that you’re being treated by someone who’s previously served and understand some of the things you’ve gone through it’s a relationship you can’t take away."

Dr. Silva wanted to build that relationship, but also help the patients. 

"The VA does not provide dental benefits unless they are 100% disabled," he said. "We don't charge them for certain procedures.No troops left behind."

The drill is simple. From serving our country to serving each other.  

Reggie Hamlin, a St. Louis native and US Marine Corps rifleman, knew the root to one of his problems: his teeth.

"I had a viral infection from my teeth and the infection was getting to my bloodstream. They were blacked on the edge and they were crooked. Mentally, you don't want to be involved because you can't smile. With Vietnam and stuff, I had post-traumatic stress. I have anxiety a lot. By not looking your best, that adds on to your anxiety," Hamlin said. 

This unnerving feeling though, saved by his brothers in arms. Smiling ear to ear, Reggie said, "I got my smile back."

It's been a tough journey for Reggie, but he's ready to sink his teeth into his new life. 

"He my put life together again. Get your life back because when you look better you feel better," he said with a smile. 

For any veterans in need for the St. Louis Dental Center, call 314-833-2755. 

The next free exams will be late June, as well as a week before Veterans Day. 

St. Louis Community College also has a dental hygiene clinic with free services for veterans.

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