For Herbert Silva, DMD, a comprehensive care unit director at A.T. Still University-Missouri School of Dentistry & Oral Health’s (ATSU-MOSDOH) St. Louis Dental Center – a partnership of ATSU and Affinia Healthcare – giving back to veterans is a personal passion. After serving his country as a U.S. Marine during the 1960s and 1970s, he felt it was time to give back to other veterans the best way he knew how. Thus, the MOSDOH Veterans Smile Forward program was born.
Upon leaving the Marine Corps, Dr. Silva attended dental school. For 38 years, he served in general practice and was the co-founder of Chesterfield Dental Associates in Chesterfield, Missouri. ATSU-MOSDOH’s focus on dentistry in the community provided him with the opportunity he needed to give back.
In addition to his work with Operation Stand Down, Give Kids A Smile, and Focus Marines Foundation, Dr. Silva helped to initiate the MOSDOH Veterans Smile Forward program to provide dentures and partials to veterans in need. For the past three years, students who help perform the procedures have been mentored by volunteer faculty.
“We give them back their dignity, we give them back their smile, they’re not afraid to go out in public anymore. They’ve just got their confidence back,” Dr. Silva said.
During his time in the military, Dr. Silva formed friendships and gained a community of support from those who flew Cobra Gunships during the Vietnam War. In particular, he bonded with squadron mates Capt. Joe Gallo, also known as “Cobra Joe” for his skills with the Cobra Gunship, and Lt. Col. Pat Owen.
“I learned early on that the comradery and the bonding that we made ourselves was lifelong lasting,” Dr. Silva said.
When Owen heard about Dr. Silva’s project to make oral healthcare more accessible to veterans, he knew he wanted to help however he could. Armed with information about how to donate, he posted on a Facebook page of squadron mates who flew helicopters during the Vietnam War and other Marine pilots who flew the Harrier with Gallo, asking for donations in memory of Cobra Joe who, unfortunately, lost his life in 1978 flying the AV8 Harrier.
Over time, many, including the veterans who flew in Vietnam, began donating to the program. In 2019, ATSU-MOSDOH students and faculty were able to treat over 110 veterans, topping the previous total of 62 veterans.
Dr. Silva’s hope is that graduates of ATSU-MOSDOH will take the knowledge, skills, and values they’ve gained from their hands-on experiences and continue the legacy of the MOSDOH Veterans Smile Forward program.
“Hopefully our graduates can continue to do this once they get into practice. They can go out and start contributing to veterans and donate their time and their services to veterans,” Dr. Silva said.
To learn how you can help to restore smiles to those in need, visit atsu.edu/support-mosdoh-vets.