Hawaii DENTAC conducts humanitarian dental missions to remote locations: soldiers from the USA Dental Activity provide dental treatment and education to citizens of remote locations while on humanitarian missions.
Subject: Soldiers (Services)
Health education (Training)
Author: Eavey, Mark E.
Pub Date: 09/01/2009
Publication: Name: The Dental Assistant Publisher: American Dental Assistants Association Audience: Academic; Trade Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Science and technology Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 American Dental Assistants Association ISSN: 1088-3886
Issue: Date: Sept-Oct, 2009 Source Volume: 78 Source Issue: 5
Topic: Event Code: 360 Services information; 280 Personnel administration
Organization: Government Agency: United Kingdom. Royal Army. Dental Corps
Geographic: Geographic Scope: Vietnam Geographic Code: 9VIET Vietnam
Accession Number: 221850542
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Hawaii is one of the most sough-after assignments in the Army Dental Corps. Known as paradise, Hawaii has year-round sunny weather, world-renowned beaches, and lots of outdoor and water activities. While these are all great reasons to come to Hawaii, our dental professionals find a lot of rewarding opportunities taking care of soldiers, sailors, and airmen along with going on humanitarian missions to many remote locations. About once a month, a team of one or two dentists and dental assistants go on humanitarian missions to treat patients and educate the local population on the importance of dental hygiene.

Over the last year, we have sent several dental teams to the Balikatan in the Philippines. Balikatan in Filipino means "Shoulder to Shoulder" and that is the goal the soldiers strived to fulfill on their missions. SPC Christel Hornstra, SPC Shannon Tb_ibeault, SPC Carrie Miles, PFC Denise Childs, and PFC Latasha Peterson have all had rewarding experiences on various missions. SPC Thibeault completed seven missions and assisted with the treatment of approximately 3,500 patients in a two-week period, averaging 250 patients per day.

She began her mission in Sorsogon. The villagers were very wary the first couple of days. For some of them, it was the first time they ever saw an American. The villagers soon became comfortable with the team and as word got around, more and more people came dressed up in their finest clothes to be treated. The dental tent quickly became the center of attention. They had a wonderful group of volunteers who traveled many miles each day to help translate for the team.

The second leg of the journey involved flying to Masabate in Chinooks. They then switched places with Team 1. The security level was much higher in this area. The team noticed a big difference in how the children reacted to them as they preferred to stand back and observe from a distance. The opportunity to treat all these people was an experience SPC Thibeault will never forget and she is very thankful to have been a part of Balikatan 2009.

SPC Hornstra assisted in over 250 tooth extractions for eight Medical Civic Action Programs (MEDCAPs). She also provided oral hygiene instructions to over 500 Filipinos while providing each dental patient with a toothbrush and toothpaste. Her team traveled to many locations in the Philippines, including the islands of Basilan and Mindanao. SPC Hornstra also had the privilege of working with Philippine Army dentists and dental assistants. In addition, many local dentists and dental students volunteered their time.

In most sites, the team was set up in elementary school classrooms in very high temperatures without suction or running water. They worked under headlamp light and utilized a translator for communication with the patients. They traveled by helicopter, CASA airplane, US Marine Mark V, and vehicle convoys to reach patients. It was a very gratifying and rewarding experience to work alongside the Army Forces of the Philippines to help their local villagers and build trust.

SPC Miles's first mission to the Philippines was amazing. She traveled with a group of other medical staff consisting of a pediatrician, radiologist, family practitioner, veterinarian, ophthalmologist, and the dentist. Everyone brought their own assistant to share in the workload. They worked together for two weeks and went to nine different sites. Every day was a challenge but very rewarding. The dental team treated an average of 300 children and adults every day. Each site was held at a school and they would use student chairs for patients to sit in. The teachers' table was used to set up instruments. Treatment capabilities were very limited; the primary treatment was extraction of damaged teeth because the option to restore the teeth was not available. They did not have electricity and there was little overhead light, so they were using "natural light" from the sun shining into the classroom.

The dental team consisted of U.S. Army and Philippine Army dentists. Patients would come and stand in line for hours to be seen. While most of the patients needed more than just an extraction, the dental team was limited to the amount of work they could do on each patient. They also gave out toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss to all who came in for treatment and showed the patients how to use them. Humanitarian missions such as this help to reach out to the community, interact with the Philippine Army and learn the different techniques most commonly used/ needed to treat patients.

PFC Peterson's first mission to the Philippines was very exciting. She completed seven missions with a total of approximately 10,000 patients. She worked with the Philippine Air Force dentist, a local dentist and their body guards (Philippine Air Force soldiers). All the sites had a lot of local citizens who wanted to help unload boxes, seat patients, and help with sterilization. The team extracted teeth from many patients both young and old. Many of the patients traveled great distances to receive treatment that had been long overdue.

It was satisfying to help and see the smiles on the patient's faces. The team felt that they made a difference in their patients' lives even if it was just an extraction. Several of the team members realize how lucky they are to have health care facilities near by and how easily care is accessed. While the Philippines mission was very exhausting, it was fun and well worth the effort.

PFC Childs went on a mission to Paliwan where the dental team was amazed to be greeted by a band playing to welcome them. The citizens of Tay Tay didn't quite know what to expect but they welcomed the team with open arms. Once word spread to the citizens of Tay Tay that the team was there to help provide medical, dental, and veterinary care, everyone became excited and greeted the team graciously.

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The mission consisted of traveling to five separate locations to provide care at the schoolhouses in the area. The combined dental force consisted of four dentists, five dental assistants, and interpreters who were readily available to help with communicating with the patients. Overall, the team provided dental care to approximately 300 citizens daily At the end of the daft there were a lot of smiling faces.

After returning from their missions in remote locations of the world, these dental assistants have all volunteered to help provide dental care on future missions. Their personal reward is knowing that they helped people who did not have access to dental care while educating young children on how to take better care of their teeth. An added bonus for all of these soldiers is their increased knowledge of the dental field while building confidence in their abilities.

First Sergeant Mark E. Eavey is the Senior Dental NCO of the Pacific Regional Dental Command and the First Sergeant of the USA Dental Activity Hawaii. He is a Certified Dental Assistant and has a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and Education. He is the 2008 Federal recipient of the ADAA/Sunstar Pride Award. 1SG Eavey has held a variety of positions in his career, most notably as the First Sergeant of the Bavaria Dental Activity and the Chief Enlisted Instructor of the Dental Assistant Course at Sheppard AFB, Texas.
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