Vets Can Be All Smiles
Patriotic pride is particularly high right now in Oklahoma, with the loss of 14 of our own soldiers from the Oklahoma National Guard since their deployment to Afghanistan earlier this year. For Edmond brothers, dentists Mike and Joe Sebourn, military pride always has been a way of life. And they are doing their part to support the military by donating their dental time through an Oklahoma program called D-DENT.
A nonprofit organization, D-DENT (Dentist for the Disabled and Elderly in Need of Treatment) was established in 1986. More than 500 Oklahoma dentists participate in the program, 28 from the Edmond area. The Sebourn brothers of Tower Dental, located at 1333 N. Santa Fe, are two of them.
“D-DENT serves the developmentally disabled, those 60 and older, and now veterans throughout the state,” said Shirley Harris, who has served as D-DENT’s director for the past 15 years. “We find dentists who are willing to donate their time, and we pay all the lab fees so those who need dental care can have it.”
In March, D-DENT was awarded a $30,000 Access to Health Care iFund grant from the Oklahoma City Community Foundation. This enabled D-DENT to include low-income and uninsured military veterans in their program. “A lot of veterans need (a program like this),” said Joe Sebourn, a veteran himself. He served in the Army 1995-1997 as a Korean linguist, and was preparing to go to Korea when he injured his knee, making him undeployable. He left the military life and joined his brother’s practice in Edmond in 2009. “It’s sad when they get out (of the military), because there aren’t any government programs for dental insurance, so they are just out of luck.”
Harris said the elderly are in the same boat; Medicare has no dental provisions, and Medicaid only provides for tooth removal. Veterans sometimes can have dental coverage if they are 100 percent disabled, but that also only provides for removal options, she said.
This issue hit close to home for the Sebourns when their father, Harold Sebourn, a decorated veteran, had dental issues of his own, and faced the same problem as other veterans — no coverage. Harold Sebourn had served in the Army during the Vietnam War. He worked in surface to surface missiles, riding around in helicopters to determine the necessary missile coordinates.
“He once jumped out of a helicopter to retrieve an injured soldier in the middle of fire from both sides,” Joe said. A two-time Bronze Star with Valor recipient, Harold also received the Vietnamese Medal of Honor for pulling Vietnamese soldiers from a downed helicopter under fire. The captain was up for a promotion to major when he returned home at age 23.
Harold Sebourn is one of a long line of Sebourn military men. Every generation of the family has served in the military, all the way back to Jacob Sebourn in the Revolutionary War. The family legend says Jacob emigrated from Great Britain and fought with the American rebels in America’s Revolutionary War. His father disowned him, and that’s where the Sebourn name originated. “Jacob supposedly chose Sebourn because he said he ‘came from the sea,’” Joe said. The military legacy continues into Joe and Mike’s generation. Out of the pair and their seven other siblings, four have served in the military. Now, Joe and Mike serve the military men.
Harold suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, and is considered 100 percent disabled. When he got infections in his mouth and needed dental work done, he was looking at an expensive bill that he couldn’t pay. That’s where D-DENT stepped in.
“Dad was my first D-DENT patient,” Joe said. The program allowed for Joe to perform a bridge to give his father the dental health he needed. “That’s what really got me interested initially (in D-DENT). I’ve always been impressed with what (Dad) has done and helping him got me interested in helping others like him.”
Mike said one of his most dramatic cases was a man named Robert. Robert had ground every tooth down to the nub, even a few down into the nerves. What he needed was a crown on every single tooth, at the cost of about $20,000-$30,000, Mike said, which Robert couldn’t afford. Typically, with the lack of insurance coverage, Robert would have had his teeth pulled and would have had to live with dentures. But through the D-DENT program, Mike was able to give him the smile he deserved.
Mike has been a volunteer dentist for D-DENT since before they were able to serve veterans. “I grew up in an under-served community,” he said. “Frankly, we were pretty poor. I got out of that (environment) and got a college degree, and I’ve always intended to help others who grew up in my situation.”
Harris believes the lack of dental provisions in insurance stems from the belief that dental health isn’t that important. But that’s just not the case, she said. “If you don’t have good oral health, it affects the rest of your health,” she said. Joe agrees, quoting an American Medical Association publication stating that dental health is one of the top things that improves quality of life. And D-DENT is here to give that to as many needy Oklahomans as possible. For more on how to participate in D-DENT as a patient, a dentist or a donor, go to www.d-dentok.org or call 424-8092.