The staff at Dental Web Now would like to recognize the notable contributions of our servicemen and women in the U.S. Armed Forces as well as those in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs who specialize in the field of dentistry this Memorial Day. Dentists in the military are professional dentists who, as a condition of having the costs of their medical training paid for, are contractually obligated to serve a number of years. They are commissioned officers, and can serve full-time in a military facility, or maintain their civilian practice while being available as-needed in the Reserves. They are the staff dentists working within a fully-featured dental office, much like their civilian counterparts, and may also specialize in the same fields, such as orthodontics, periodontics, and pediatric dentistry. They serve a wider range of patients, from elite special operators to kindergarteners at the on-base elementary school.
I recall a number of appointments at the dental offices at Fort Eustis, VA and at Fort Stewart, GA, while in the U.S. Army. During my advanced training as a helicopter mechanic, I sustained a severe fracture of my upper jaw in a basketball game with other soldiers at our training quarters – ironically, it was the afternoon of July 4th, 2003. Ultimately, it required five months in wire braces, three root canals, two ceramic composite crowns, and a titanium implant in my jaw. (No partridge in a pear tree, sorry). That was tens of thousands of dollars worth of work, but the Army (and the Veterans’ Administration) covered every bit, no questions asked.
Contrary to what one might expect, military dentists don’t have a dental drill in one hand, and a pistol in the other. Servicemembers who are being sent into a hostile zone must have a full dental exam performed before they’re cleared for deployment. If a severe dental problem is identified, it would have to be treated and then the soldier is sent overseas. The military dentist does not deploy with the overall unit, but rather stays at his/her dental office, treating those servicemembers who were flagged for dental treatment, pregnant servicewomen, and the servicemembers’ families. This is not to say that there aren’t some dentists who go into hazardous location; rather, they’re the exception. A few may volunteer to deploy overseas to cover emergencies (wounded warriors), as well as promoting goodwill. For example, some Army dentists treated critical dental issues for foreign locals in Iraq & Afghanistan, either by helping the indigenous dentists who may have lacked sufficient staff and resources, supplanting them if they were unavailable for various reasons, or both.
Military dentists differ significant from civilian dentists in that they serve a community in which there’s a common bond unmatched in civilian practice. The patient in the chair shares many of the same values as the dental provider, while all are committed to selfless service on behalf of their communities and nation. Thanks to all of the dentists in the Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard who help keep America’s warriors healthy and smiling brightly!