EVANSVILLE, Ind. ― Larry Gries joked that a few years ago, he was the University of Southern Indiana dental hygiene students’ guinea pig.
Once Gries, 67, retired from being a student housing mail man for USI, he started taking advantage of the dental program’s services.
On Monday morning, Gries was one of 36 veterans signed up for USI’s Dental Hygiene Clinic’s free dental cleaning, fluoride and X-rays. The free services take place again Wednesday for 36 more veterans.
This year’s appointment schedule, which is full, was expanded to include evening hours in hopes to serve more veterans. This is the second year for free services, but discounted services were available before.
Gries served as a private in the Army in the Vietnam War from 1969-70. He was stationed in Quang Tri province and was part of a transportation division.
“We supplied the fire bases between North and South Vietnam,” he said.
Gries worked as a USI student housing mail man for 20 years before retiring nine years ago. That’s how he learned about the services offered to veterans through the university’s dental program. This was his third year getting his teeth cleaned, as well as grabbing an exam and fluoride treatment.
“Oh, I think it’s fantastic,” Gries said. “It helps us and it helps the students. They do a thorough job.”
USI’s Dental Hygiene Program collaborates with Southwest Indiana Area Health Education Center and USI’s Veteran, Military & Family Resource Center to offer the special clinic hours for veterans. USI Dental Hygiene faculty members supervise students who work in the clinic, which is located on campus in the Health Professions Center.
Dr. Sam Euler is full time instructor, or “overseer” of the clinic.
“They learn a lot,” Euler said. “They need to see diversity ― all different types of mouths ― the ones that aren’t so clean and the ones that are clean. And it helps the veterans, too, because it’s free of charge.”
Joel Matherly, manager of USI’s Veteran, Military & Family Resource Center, said the appointments always fill fast.
“The huge response points to the need in our community for veterans to have access to this type of care,” Matherly said. “We appreciate how the USI Dental Hygiene Clinic has responded to the veterans.”