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A reason to smile: Lubbock veteran benefiting from surgeons' gift of dental surgery

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal - 12/4/2018

Dec. 04--Gregory Arriaga is hoping to smile again.

And dental surgeon Robert Loppolo and partner Justin Bonner are attempting to make that happen with a free surgery that ordinarily would cost in excess of $50,000.

On Monday, Arriaga received a procedure from the oral surgeons in the office of Hill & Ioppolo Oral and Facial Surgeons of Lubbock that is designed to replace teeth he lost and dentures he couldn't wear without a frown.

"I was never able to smile because I was embarrassed," Arriaga said. "I've had dentures, but I never did use them because I could never get used to them. It was a problem to me. I couldn't speak properly with the dentures, and I just didn't like to have them in there -- the taste and everything."

Arriaga remembers he had been 18 and a student at Lubbock High School in 1965 when he and a group of buddies decided to drop out and join the Army. The Vietnam War was going on, and they were planning to be soldiers.

But the military assigns personnel to whatever post it believes they are needed most for the moment, and Arriaga was trained and sent to Alaska as a firefighter.

"It got 50 to 60 below zero," he remembers of dangerous cold winters in Alaska. "You can get frostbite if you don't take care of yourself and really be careful."

Still, he survived Alaska physically intact, but with teeth that didn't last a lifetime.

"I had a good dentist who took my teeth out, because my teeth were not very good," he said.

According to a statement from Hill & Ioppolo, Arriaga developed post traumatic stress disorder that caused him to unconsciously grind his teeth, gradually wearing off the enamel and eventually needing a full-mouth extraction.

"After the procedure, he will be pain-free, enjoy the foods he loves again, and wear his smile with confidence," the statement reads.

The surgery Monday was designed to rebuild what was lost:

"The procedure involves removing all the patient's teeth that are non-restorable, smoothing down the bone that supports those teeth, placing some implants -- what we refer to as posts -- inside of the bone, and putting up a bridge that goes from one side to the other on both the top and the bottom.," Loppolo said of the surgery.

According to Loppolo, the plan is to give Arriaga a complete set of teeth, all with a fixed bridge attached to the implants that were done Monday, which was descried as the first step.

"We give a patient intravenous sedation during the procedure so they have no recollection of the procedure," he said. "They generally rest comfortably during the procedure."

The services are donated once a year by Loppolo and Bonner for a veteran near Veterans Day on Nov. 11, then scheduled a bit later. Others contribute also, including dentist Tim Leslie and laboratories.

"Every year we have a program that we call Smiles for Soldiers, and Gregory was in the Army, as was I for 13 years, so we just have a desire to give back to the community in general, but especially to the veteran community because they have a lapse of coverage when it comes to dental coverage in many cases. That was the challenge for Gregory, was this inability to get this type of care done," Loppolo said.

Arriaga, interviewed shortly before the surgery, was looking forward to the results.

"I believe it will improve my life. I've been staying kind of secluded, you know, in my daily things that I do. I just can't present myself like I want to -- smile or laugh," he said. "It affects everything."

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(c)2018 the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (Lubbock, Texas)

Visit the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (Lubbock, Texas) at www.lubbockonline.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 
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