Finding a spare moment to speak with the busy Dr. Jay Grossman, DDS, is kind of like pulling teeth (pun intended). Of course, Grossman doesn’t want to pull anyone’s teeth. He’s trying to save them. The prominent dentist with a thriving three-decade practice in Brentwood also serves veterans and the needy to try to avoid such extractions. The Malibu resident spends hours weekly treating patients of his nonprofit, Homeless Not Toothless.
After serving in the Navy 30 years ago, Grossman opened his dental practice just down the street from the Veterans Administration campus in West Los Angeles. He had treated servicemen and women during his own service in the 1980s—”I had the privilege of being a dentist for Navy personnel for three years,” he said.
During his first year of private practice while so close to the VA, the father of three encountered a lot of veterans—many of them down and out, looking for help.
“One day, as I was reaching into my wallet, I decided to give them my business card,” the dentist recalled. “I said, ‘My practice is right down the street. Why don’t you come in and I can do a lot more for you by fixing your teeth, getting you out of pain and giving you dentures so you can look good, interview for jobs, smile and have your dignity raised?’ That’s how Homeless Not Toothless started. Since then, more than 60,000 patients have been seen and they don’t have to pay a penny.”
Grossman said he wanted a concrete way to help fellow former service members.
“I’ve always been concerned and upset that these veterans are not getting the medical and dental care they wanted,” Grossman said. “And I’ve been concerned just handing them cash and not knowing whether that cash was going to drugs and alcohol or their next meal.”
But first, Grossman tells veterans, “Thank you for your service to our country.”
Although serving veterans is a primary focus, the charity has expanded to treat other needy clients.
“The concept is that if people are coming to the free clinic they have to be clean [from drugs] and sober—actively looking for work.” Patients are referred by the VA. “They [the VA] just don’t have the capacity to provide dental care.” Importantly, Grossman pointed out, “In order to get [military] dental benefits, you have to have a 100-percent disability.” That could mean an injury so severe employment is not possible. “Very few veterans are entitled to dental benefits. Imagine what that’s like. Statistically, veterans with dental benefits are ridiculously low.”
So, Grossman said, he decided to help: “I’ve got a skillset to provide dental care. I’ve got colleagues willing to volunteer.”
Homeless Not Toothless has expanded with five other clinics in the East Los Angeles area exclusively working on children in foster care and women experiencing domestic abuse. Grossman, his associates and more than 1,000 volunteer dental students provide care.
The nonprofit stays afloat mostly due to the generosity of funds provided by Grossman and his wife, Briar, plus, “We’re always applying for grants,” he said.
During the pandemic, funding is particularly tough due to the skyrocketing cost of PPE that is critical to providing care. And, while Grossman still pays 100 percent of the rent at his practice and free clinic, due to pandemic safety protocols he’s only seeing half of his private patients in order to space out appointments.
Tooth health is important, as the dentist explained.
“Almost everybody, at one point, has had a toothache or knows dental pain. Those with resources can make that pain go away,” Grossman said. “Imagine if you didn’t have the opportunity to actually get out of pain. Imagine if you had teeth aesthetically look so horrible that your opportunities to gain employment would be literally nonexistent. This is the horrific conundrum that a lot of these veterans and homeless are in. They want gainful employment, but they don’t have the resources to get that toothache taken care of or get that missing tooth replaced.”
If you’d like to help, go to HomelessNotToothless.org.