Putting a smile on the faces of Canada's veterans is the driving force behind dental care being offered by students at Toronto's George Brown College.
Starting on Monday, students in the School of Dental Health will volunteer to help provide dentures and dental care to veterans.
"We would like to give something back to them for the years of service that they have put for our country, our nation, and keeping us safe," said Prof. Deepak Naik.
Launch ahead of Remembrance Day
"We think that it is our duty to give back to them especially at this time of the year," Naik said, referring to next Wednesday's national Remembrance Day commemorations.
A big challenge for veterans is paying dental bills since dentures can cost $3,000 or more.
George Brown was able to offer a deep discount with the help of dental equipment maker Dentsply, and from the dental lab service firm LHM Dental, Naik said.
"They're usually in the range of about $200-350 for a set. It could vary from complete dentures to partial dentures depending upon the need of the patient," he said.
Michael Fijolek, who is one of more than two dozen third-year students volunteering on the denture project, said being part of it means a lot.
"Just helping individuals that have done so much for us that we don't see every day -- they're overseas or even at home protecting us," Fijolek said.
"Something like this – the skills that I've learned – I can apply to really help somebody and put a smile on their face," he said.
The goal is to let veterans know that help is available since they can be "a very independent lot," said David Bawtinheimer, vice-president of the Royal Canadian Legion's Branch 15.
"They'll gloss over the injuries, they'll make do with what they have. Anything other than the front bunch of teeth is cosmetic to them," Bawtinheimer said.
"They won't worry about it because they haven't got the money to worry about it," he said.
That's where the denture clinic can make a real difference, he said.
"If you give them a chance, if you give them something like this, then they can pick up their lives a little better," he said.
Naik said he decided to offer dental help after being involved in a similar program for veterans in his home country of India.
"This kind of program's gold for people who are in a difficult situation," said Robert Walsh, who was a platoon commander and a recruiting officer for the army reserves.
Connections and dialogue
The hope is that students and veterans will make real connections talking about military missions and sacrifice.
'When you're sitting there and you're shooting the breeze with the dentist, while you're waiting for the mold to set or while you're waiting for your chance to get in there, you will talk about these things," Bawtinheimer said.
"The kids will see that the people they're dealing with are just normal people who have done kind of extraordinary things for the world," he said.