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Say “aaaaaah” – Air Force deployed dental teams support readiness

  • Published
  • By Peter Holstein
  • Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs
Dental health is a critical component of overall health and wellness, which means dental readiness is vital to overall Airmen readiness.

From the moment an Airman joins the Air Force until they retire, the Air Force Medical Service strives to ensure members maintain optimal oral health. The Air Force also deploys teams of dentists, dental technicians, and oral and maxillofacial surgeons to combat theaters to provide dental care to battlefield Airmen.

Dental concerns for Airmen in-theater vary, and can go far beyond the normal dental exams and cleanings most people associate with routine trips to the dentist. The AFMS trains deployed dental teams to address acute dental emergencies, such as stabilizing jaw fractures, managing dental-related infections, addressing acute dental pain and restoring fractured teeth.

“Airmen deploy in good oral health, but on deployments they may encounter unexpected dental problems like anyone else would, plus more,” said Col. James Kutner, dental readiness consultant to the Air Combat Command Surgeon at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. “Some Air Force career fields are at a higher risk than average for dental disease or injury, so our deployed dental teams need to be ready to treat a wide variety of ailments.”

Long hours, shifting schedules, difficult working conditions and high stress environments can all have a negative effect on an Airman’s dental health. Kutner emphasized that the numbers bear this out.

“In theater, about 1-in-5 medical patients has a dental-related concern,” said Kutner. “We see acute gum disease, unanticipated eruption of third molars, fractured teeth from grinding and stress, and Airmen with work-related oral injuries during their deployment. Having skilled dental teams in deployed areas ensures that we can return Airmen with dental emergencies to duty as soon as possible.”

Preventive dentistry is also a critical component of readiness, both at home-station and in-theater. Even though most cavities are relatively simple to diagnose and treat, they can be predictors of future dental issues. Each cavity an Airman has filled increases their risk of needing an acute dental appointment in-theater. Air Force dental teams spend much time and effort educating Airmen on the importance of good oral health.

“Ensuring Airmen are dentally ready to deploy supports the combatant commander’s mission and prevents mission degradation,” said Kutner. “Providing dental care in deployed environments prevents problems from becoming chronic and allows members to complete their mission requirements without the worry and distraction of dental pain. “Maintaining good oral health helps Airmen during their deployments and throughout their career.”