Once homeless, vet receives free dental surgeries, reason to smile

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A dental office gave an Army veteran a reason to smile this Veteran's Day.

Robert Baxter won a contest that he says has changed his life. He said it was tough for him to enter this contest; his teeth were so bad he was embarrassed to smile. But that has all changed. The dentists wanted to say thank you to the men and women who put their lives on the line to keep us safe. 

Either from bad dental work or bad genetics, Baxter has been dealing with dental issues since he was 7 years old.

"I couldn't eat the foods I enjoyed, my self-confidence was down. I just wanted to date again and was like, yeah, that wasn't going to happen," he said. And things were only getting worse when the U.S. Army veteran suffered injuries that left him without work and in a homeless shelter.

"I was separated from my now ex-wife, living in a homeless shelter for veterans when I was given the opportunity for a one-time grant to go ahead and have my teeth pulled and get dentures," Baxter said. "I never realized how much I would miss my teeth."

Baxter recorded a 3-minute video to be part of a social media contest after he found on on Facebook the Dental Implant Center of Royal Oak giving away a free dental makeover.

Baxter waited patiently for weeks but still pushed on. He got a part-time job and he remarried, but there was always something missing his smile. 

"Unfortunately what happens to a lot of people is he came back after his time of duty and ended up on street, homeless," said Dr. Ben Alwhi. "He was given a one-grant to fix his teeth and they took out most of his teeth left him with a very poor denture.

"Robert's story really resonated the most with our office, the doctors here, the staff here. We were alll involved in this process."

And then word came.

"Dr. Ben Alwhi came in and sat down, broke the news to me that I was the winner and I started crying immediately," Robert said.

Using implants and the latest technology, Dr. Chady Alhage and Dr. Omar Benhawy replaced all of Robert's upper teeth and most of his bottom teeth. It was a procedure that normally costs $40,000 to $50,000.

"I can smile again," Baxter said.

"What made us happy when we saw him was bouncing back on his own," Alwhi said. "He got married, had a family, he was working but still had to deal with this denture and so, for us, we looked at an opportunity to contribute to this aspect of his life and make a huge difference in his life."

And that it has.

"It's given me a sense of happiness back I haven't had in a long time. It's confidence," Baxter said.

"For us to be able to offer to him it is really our honor for him to let us to this for him," Alwhi said.