FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas --- Going to the dentist can be an anxiety-ridden experience, particularly when there is a potential root canal or cavity.

However, dental assistants are there serving on the frontlines of the dental office, there to greet the patients and help relieve their dental-related fears.

Dental assistants are the worker bees that keep the dental clinic functioning. They are there to make sure that the dentist has all the necessary tools to practice on the patient, such as dental X-rays, instruments, equipment and materials.

Enlisted Soldiers, from C Company, 187th Medical Battalion, first learn these skills during a seven-week 68E Dental Specialist Course at the Department of Dental Science, Army Medical Department Center and School, Academy of Health Sciences.

During the course, students are provided with the skills and knowledge necessary to perform tasks required of a dental assistant in the examination, care and treatment of dental diseases and disorders.

"The most interesting thing that I learned was the oral diseases in the mouth; it certainly opened up my eyes to better care for my teeth," said Pvt. Kyle Stowers, 68E student.

Three classes are in session simultaneously doing 14 class iterations a year, each containing 28 to 35 students per class, and taught by three civilian instructors and 10 noncommissioned officers.

The course includes general knowledge of anatomy and physiology of the head, medical and dental terminology, and the procedures to follow to complete dental assisting procedures.

Subjects include preventive dentistry, dental records, dental materials, dental radiology techniques and equipment. Students also perform chair-side general and surgical assisting tasks under the supervision of a dental officer.

"Being in the course there is so much information to learn at once, but the neatest thing was to be able to get our hands-on by making molds and casts," Stowers said.

Students are also trained to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation and sent out for on-the-job training in dental assisting at the Rhoades and Budge dental clinics here and to the Brooke Army Medical Center Oral Surgery Clinic.

Their on-the-job training allows them to interact with patients and put their education and skills to use in assisting the dentist and clinical staff.

Prior to graduation, students must complete a 72-hour continuous operations field training exercise of warrior task and battlefield drills.

After graduation, students are given a certified CPR card; however, their dental specialist certification comes later. They have an option to pursue their certification in the future by requesting their unit pay for their dental assistant exam and they can independently get their certification as an X-ray technician through a state exam.

Spc. Joel Brown, a 68E student, was a high school chemistry and physics teacher who wanted to be in the medical field. He said joining the service was a good way for him to get his foot in the door.

"The course is thorough and there is no reason not to be prepared. The instructors are knowledgeable and experienced, and with their cross-over information, the students are well taught and educated," Brown said. "Be prepared to work hard, maintain discipline and have fun in the dentistry field."

"The dental specialist is an excellent course for anyone who has an interest in dentistry. The course is well-rounded and it is fast paced," said Sgt. 1st Class Wilbur Branham, NCO in charge, Dental Specialist Course.