VINA Community Dental Center is a nonprofit dental clinic in Brighton, Michigan that provides affordable dental to care to low-income, uninsured adults in Livingston County. The VINA clinic partners with the University of Michigan School of Dentistry to provide free dental care to veterans through the Victors for Veterans program under the direction of Dr. Howard H. Hamerink. The Michigan Dental Association Foundation funds the program.

The Victors for Veterans program serves veterans living in a seven-county area in between major cities like Flint, Detroit and Lansing. This is the second clinic of its kind, the first operates in Northern Michigan serving the Traverse City area.

The program offers free, comprehensive dental care and education to low-income veterans. This includes full exams, crowns, bridges, cleanings, fillings, dentures, root canals, oral surgery and more.

Jim is one of the many patients receiving free dental care through the Victors for Veterans program as a part of the fall 2020 group. He served in the Army for three years in Korea. He comes into the program having not seen a dentist in nearly a decade as he stopped receiving care at the University of Michigan dental clinic when it became too expensive to keep up with.

Jim only had one lower tooth, and his dentures were in poor condition, causing him problems during day-to-day tasks like eating or smiling and he would often try to hide his smile. Jim felt nervous when he first started receiving dental care, but quickly became comfortable because of the kindness and care of those working the clinic.

The U of M dental students and faculty generously donate their time and services to the Victors for Veterans program to give back to those who served our country. Specialists in Livingston County donate their time and services to the Victors for Veterans program as well, including Ward Dental Lab, oral surgeon Dr. Fred Bonine, endodontist Dr. Erika Johnson and dental company Ivoclar Vivadent.

Patients like Jim are extremely thankful for those who donate and fund the program. Jim says “keep it going because people need it, they really do. It makes me smile more.”

Jim raved about VINA employee Toni Nerowski and the U of M dental students who treat him, saying “Toni’s sweeter than a jelly donut and the students are wonderful. They explain everything and you just feel like you can talk to them. This is my happy place.

Nerowski oversees patient scheduling at VINA and is the first and last face patients see. She says the Victors for Veterans clinic days are her favorite because of the patients. She emphasizes the importance of caring and listening to the veteran patients, saying “compassion costs nothing and they’ve given so much for us already.”

Jim is excited to continue getting his dental care through the Victors for Veterans program. He says, “I can’t wait to look in the mirror, smile and see I have teeth. And to be able to eat better, that’s a big thing.”

The Victors for Veterans program will continue through the winter of 2022 at the VINA clinic and in Traverse City.

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