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Full Metal Dentist: One Doctor's Mission to Help Veterans in Idaho

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 5:05pm -- DrFeck

From serving his country between 2000-2005, to owning his own dental practice in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho ten years later, Justin Rader, DDS fully understands the importance of dental support for military veterans. Dr. Rader shares with OsteoReady how he's been able to provide dental treatment to veterans without access to care.  

OsteoReady: What made you choose dentistry as a career choice?

Dr. Rader: When I got out of the Army, I decided to change paths professionally. My stepdad, Dr. Jack Fullwiler, is my mentor and a dentist. I was able to shadow him and could see firsthand the service dentistry provides to its patients. It's family oriented as well as a good, stable career. Full-time Army life was not conducive to a budding family life.

I bought my stepdad's practice in 2015, he had purchased it in 1951 from his father, Dr. Richard Fullwiler, so we've got three generations of history. Hence, I changed the practice name to Generations Dentistry. My great-grandfather, Dr Butler, was also a dentist and he served in World War I. Dr. Fullwiler served in World War II and I served in the Iraq War. I guess you could say serving my country and dentistry runs strong in my family.

O: How did you get involved in volunteering for veterans?

Dr. R: In 2005, I was deployed to Baghdad as a soldier, not a dentist. When I got out, I switched gears. I graduated dental school in 2010, during my postgraduate training I was able to learn about the opportunities to give back to veterans and I knew it was something I had to be involved in.

O: What kind of volunteer work are you involved in?

Dr. R: My main volunteer work is providing dental treatment and raising funds for the StandDowns around Idaho. A StandDown is an annual event that provides all kinds of services for disadvantaged and homeless veterans. The whole community gets involved. Free clothing, toothbrushes and medical screenings are available. Community volunteers provide services, such as free haircuts and a hot meal. There's assistance for those that want it, whether it's finding housing, a job or support with substance abuse. The goal is to create a foundation to help these veterans who have done our country a great service. As an Army veteran myself, I feel a personal duty to serve these men and women in need of dental care.

O: What kind of services do you offer to veterans?

Dr. R: I provide all forms of modern dentistry at the StandDowns and within my practice. Whatever I'm not able to treat, I'll usually give veterans a referral voucher for a practice where they'll be taken care of. I also work with establishments that help raise funds for referral vouchers and material reimbursements to dentists for their services.

O: What has been your most memorable case?

Dr. R: There was one veteran who came into the practice. He had a lot of dental pain—thinking that was normal. I corrected the issue and as he felt that relief, he realized just how bad it had become. He had spent years believing the pain was a routine part of his life. His entire attitude changed because he was no longer suffering. He later returned and explained how happy his family was—that his kids stated he wasn't a "mean dad" anymore. The pain had become so distracting it had literarily changed his whole personality. It was such an honor to provide this vital needed care to veterans.

O: What advice do you have for practitioners looking to become involved in this service?

Dr. R: Check out the upcoming StandDowns through the Veteran Health Administration. The VA StandDowns have grown so big that other organizations are stepping in to give support. It's amazing to be a part of it, coming together to help these veterans that need this support.

The most common procedure needed is extractions. In a regular day there can be 20-40 screenings and for about about 20 veterans, 20-30 teeth get pulled. Clinicians can write prescriptions for veterans too. Licensed volunteers can also give veterans information for where they can find a dental home and hygiene information; these men and women have fought for our freedom and it's so rewarding to help from one veteran to another.  

O: If you're interested in providing care for veterans, check out the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for an association near you.

Image 2: Dr. Rader examining a patient.

Image 3: Dr. Rader treating a veteran from a previous StandDown.

Image 4: Dr. Rader performing a dental screening at a StandDown in Idaho.

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