Dr. Charles Robert “Bob” Gillam, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, flew Black Hawk helicopters in the first Persian Gulf War and marked Veterans Day Wednesday by giving free dental work to local veterans.
In all, Gillam performed $11,396 worth of work on three veterans at Affordable Dentures & Implants in Bee Ride Square, at 4015 Cattlemen Road, Sarasota.
Thomas Patrick, a retired airman first class, who had both a chipped front tooth and degenerative bone loss, was one of those beneficiaries.
He received a full upper denture and a lower partial denture, after Gillam extracted three molars on Patrick’s lower jaw.
“I’m thankful for not having to come out of pocket for it, it hurt, especially with the economy,” said Patrick, who’s a state licensed contractor and has seen his income reduced by 70% because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I don’t think we made any money from February to July.
“Whatever savings we had is gone.”
To qualify for full VA dental benefits, military veterans must be 100% disabled, have been a prisoner of war or have developed a dental condition during their service.
Patrick, 57, who served for about two-and-a-half years, primarily as a tactical aircraft specialist at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, doesn’t meet those requirements.
He’s not alone in his dental care needs. According to the American College of Prosthodontists, 178 million Americans are missing at least one tooth and more than 35 million Americans are missing all their teeth on one or both arches.
Patrick and his wife, Amy, have five children and their needs came before his.
“I took care of my kids’ teeth, and my wife’s teeth because you take care of your family first,” Patrick said.
Still, he was sorely in need of dental work too.
“I always had pretty teeth but mom had hereditary bone loss and I inherited it,” Patrick joked.
After an evaluation at the LECOM School of Dental Medicine, Patrick knew he needed dentures.
The chipped tooth occurred a couple years back while he was securing a client’s house prior to a hurricane.
He threw a three-foot-long metal straight edge in the back of his vehicle. It hit the seat just right, and ricocheted back.
“It hit the back of the seat and cut right through the lip and both teeth,” Patrick said. “It never hurt, it just took a nasty chip out of it.”
After the LECOM visit, he stopped by Gillam’s practice to get a ballpark estimate.
Shortly after that, his wife chipped a tooth and needed Gillam’s services.
It was then when Patrick asked whether they could get any type of discount because they both needed work.
“They got back to me a week later and said they were going to do me for free,” Patrick said. “I almost fell out of my chair.”
Amy Patrick added, “We weren’t expecting that.”
Gillam has always offered veterans a 10% discount on dental work and performed work on World War II veterans for free.
Affordable Dentures & Implants primarily deals with dentures, partial implants and supported dentures. There are about 300 offices nationwide.
“We serve that underserved population that couldn’t get to a dentist growing up or as they got older,” Gillam said.
He credits his wife, Patricia Gillam, who now works in the office, with organizing this year’s Veterans Day outreach that benefitted Patrick.
Gillam is quick to add that he married the colonel’s daughter, referring to her late father, Col. Charles Shelby Wingate.
Memorabilia from his time in service, as well as Gillam’s, was on display in the waiting room as part of Veterans Day.
Gillam, who spent 10 years on active duty and 14 years in the Army Reserve, was in his first year in dental school at Southern Illinois University when he was activated to serve in the Persian Gulf, where he flew transport missions and was awarded a Bronze Star.
Gillam, who was a company commander in an Army Reserve aviation unit, anticipated the call up.
He followed in the footsteps of his father retired Army Lt. Col. William “Bill” Gillam, who served on active duty for 20 years, including Vietnam, and was awarded four Bronze Stars and a Silver Star.
Both men served in the 4th Army Division. Lt. Col. Bill Gillam actually prefers to wear the pin from when he was a major on a division ball cap, because that was his rank while in Vietnam.
He and his wife, Mary, visited their son for Veterans Day.
Gillam said the free dental work was just one way to thank others in the military who have served the country.
“We want to thank Thomas because we are so appreciative for his service to our country,” he said.
“There is a lot of need for tooth replacement care,” he later added. “I am so honored to help a Veteran receive the gift of a smile, and to help make a positive impact on his life while showing our gratitude for his sacrifice in serving our country.”
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