Florida Dental Hygienist Helps Vets Access Oral Healthcare
Eurika Peebles, CRDH, BAS, a veteran herself, supports vets’ dental health through her non-profit organization Operation Combat Smiles.
When it comes to serving her community, Eurika Peebles, CRDH, BAS, isn’t one to wait around. She now hits the road in a van tricked out with the furnishings of a dental office to expand oral healthcare access to those who may otherwise go without it. “It’s become my passion,” she says.
A veteran of the United States Air Force, Peebles has been busy since obtaining her dental hygiene degree 13 years ago followed by a Bachelor of Arts in Health Services Administration from St. Petersburg College in Florida. Her activities have included teaching; starting Polished Mobile Dental, the mobile dental service; and founding Operation Combat Smiles, a nonprofit organization aimed at expanding oral health to fellow veterans.
1. How did you get the idea for Operation Combat Smiles?
I’ve ridden with a local motorcycle club for more than 10 years. Many of my fellow bikers are also veterans who need dental treatment but can’t afford it because they don’t qualify for it with the Veterans Administration. Once they find out I am an oral health professional, I get flooded with questions and cries for help.
During the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, I had plenty of time to reflect. I realized that my purpose here on earth, is to help fellow veterans gain access to dental care. So, I became a liaison, connecting them with local volunteer dentists willing to donate treatment.
2. How does it work in increasing access to care?
So far, I only have three dentists in my database. I’m currently working on acquiring more. But Operation Combat Smiles, Inc. was just launched in February 2021. My mission is to find veterans in need. I’m currently researching veteran foster homes and veteran homeless facilities to distribute goodie bags and do oral screenings in the mobile van. I’m most concerned with veterans who are in pain and need emergency treatment. I give them contact information for one of my volunteer dentists, who can determine what treatment they are willing to donate. I also donate my hygiene services and accept the volunteer services of other dental hygienists.
3. Why is proper dental care lacking among veterans?
Once separated from the military, it can be difficult for veterans to maintain routine dental appointments if they aren’t retired or 100% disabled. Many just need to get out of pain, and I’d like to use my connections, as an oral health professional, to help so they don’t have to suffer. After all, they sacrificed so much for this country.
4. You are also an educator. What role does the mobile clinic play in helping to train students?
I’ve been a dental assisting educator since 2015. I currently teach dental assisting at Altierus Career College, in Tampa, Florida. Polished Mobile Dental is a partner in collaborative care with Bayshore Dental Center, owned by Omari Sheehy, DDS. His dental practice is one of the externship sites Altierus College uses for dental assisting students to do hands-on training, after their 9 months of classroom training. Because Dr. Sheehy is the overseeing dentist of the mobile clinic, the students can assist me on the van with dental hygiene procedures.
5. What do you love most about what you do?
I love being able to give back to my profession by helping to mold and prepare students for the fabulous world of dentistry. Being an educator has become my second passion, dental hygiene being my first. I am truly blessed to be able to serve my fellow veterans, as well.