WATERTOWN — Accompanied by his wife and adopted 10-month old son, the youngest of his 11 children, a local Air Force veteran was given a new smile Friday morning.
Thanks to a program launched last Thanksgiving that provides a local veteran in the community with a free $50,000 smile makeover, known as Smiles for Soldiers, Jacob Bowden, 39, of Carthage, underwent the first step in his smile transformation at Upstate Oral Surgery & Dental Implants. He was selected out of dozens of applicants by Dr. Logan Curtis.
The Smiles For Soldiers program was initiated last year by Dr. Curtis, a retired Army veteran himself, who spent 20 years in the service. With Mr. Bowden as the first recipient, Dr. Curtis plans to provide a veteran with a smile restoration each year.
Applications were accepted last August, with applicants having to be veterans and showing need. According to Dr. Curtis, people from all over the country applied, but he really wanted to keep the program local.
“Jacob I was really impressed with. He did 15 years in the Air Force, multiple deployments and was really in need,” he said. “He was a guy that just really deserves it, that’s why we ended up selecting him.”
Mr. Bowden joined the Air Force at age 19, wanting college benefits and a more stable career, and spent 15 years with the branch. He spent a total of 1,000 days deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan during this time.
After returning home, he suffered from depression, which caused his first marriage to end in divorce and in turn caused him to neglect his oral health and his teeth to decay and break.
His poor oral health took a toll on his confidence, and he experienced homelessness until he finally took control of his life and found a good job. Now married to his wife of three years, Laurie, he works as a service tech and the interim service manager at BearCom.
“I think it’s going to bring back a lot more confidence in my smile,” he said before the procedure. “Previously I’ve had to walk around and I can’t really smile, I keep my mouth closed. You’re very cautious and self-conscious. A new smile would give me the confidence I need, and I’d be able to smile with my family in photos.”
Friday morning, he finally underwent his smile transformation. Mr. Bowden had been waiting to receive his procedure during New York’s recommendation to postpone elective procedures during the pandemic, but as of June 1, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has allowed all dental offices in New York to resume elective care to patients.
Typically, when Dr. Curtis does this procedure, it takes about two hours of surgery time. That includes any removal of teeth, placement of implants, or bone grafting. At the end of everything, the oral team delivers his new bridge with a full set of teeth, so Mr. Bowden walked from the dental practice with his new teeth installed Friday.
“This is, really, it’s a game changer, there’s not a procedure I do that’s more of a life changer,” Dr. Curtis said.
The team at Upstate Dental gave Mr. Bowden a general anesthetic, proceeded with removing the remaining teeth, reduced them all, and then placed six implants. They grafted around the implants with cadaver bone and then sutured everything. At that point, it was a matter of trying the new teeth, getting them adjusted, and checking his biting, making sure everything was good before he went home.
“As a healthcare provider, you want to be able to help people, that’s a big drive, and to have the skills and the knowledge to be able to do this for people is really cool. I’m as excited as he is today,” Dr. Curtis said. “I’m super excited, it’s going to be awesome.”
The bridge, the surgery itself and the implants are all quite expensive. To pull off Friday’s free procedure, some of the practice’s partners chipped in to help out, donating the implants used among other things. This procedure was done in collaboration with two dentists from the Watertown Dental Health Group as well.
“I’m excited, looking forward to seeing my full smile and not having to think about every time I open my mouth people saying it looks disgusting,” Mr. Bowden said just before his procedure. “Dr. Curtis, he’s amazing, I’m glad he’s doing this, I hope the program can continue and help other veterans.”