By Sgt. 1st Class Ron Burke, MND-B PAOJune 30, 2009
BAGHDAD - The tools and weapons Soldiers use to accomplish their missions are well-known. A rifle, bayonet, body armor, helmet, uniform and boots make up the basic issue. While on their mission, Soldiers may forget about another set of weapons that are essential during a deployment: a toothbrush and dental floss. Oral hygiene sometimes falls under the 'not too important' category for Soldiers who are on a forward operating base.
The Camp Liberty Dental Clinic on Victory Base Complex, staffed by Soldiers from the 464th Medical Company (DS), is fully capable of handling just about any dental issue that may arise. The 464th is attached to the 421st Multifunctional Medical Battalion, 44th Medical Command of Landstuhl, Germany, and the clinic here supports the Soldiers of Multi-National Division-Baghdad and surrounding FOBs.
"Our mission is to perform dentistry services in theater to all servicemembers and Department of Defense civilians," said Sgt. 1st Class Ralph Hewgley, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the clinic, who is from San Antonio. "From fillings and cleanings, to oral surgery, we have a seven chair office, digital X-ray capability, and a fully operational lab that can handle just about any Class I or Class II situation and we also do crowns which is Class III dental work ," he said.
"Every year, you have to have a dental exam or you'll be dropped to a Category IV," said Lt. Col. Jeffery Callin, the division surgeon for the 1st Cavalry Division. Callin explained that a Category IV rating requires extensive dental procedures but it also means that you haven't had a dental exam that year.
"Every brigade support battalion has Level II capability and Soldiers can go there for a Category IV exam and it doesn't take long," added Callin who is from Belton, Texas.
In the operating area of the clinic, the proof was in the smile as Spc. Christopher White of Company A, 628th Area Support Battalion , 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, slowly stretched his mouth into a small smile to get a feel for his new teeth. White, who is from State College, Pa., was medically evacuated from the dental facility in Talil, Iraq, after it was determined that the clinic there could not help him.
"This clinic has been a big help since Maj. Beilhardt referred me here for treatment," the National Guardsman said as the high-pitched sounds of dental drills and suction tubes filled the office. "I didn't want to miss work so I didn't go to the dentist when I needed to and now I'm here," he continued. White had surgery to replace his front teeth with an upper denture.
Maj. Ralph Beilhardt, who is from Jonesboro, Ark., and officer in charge of the clinic has worked in dentistry since 1997. "Talil didn't have the materials and lab to handle Spc. White's situation, so I referred him here," he said.
The Camp Liberty dental clinic is one of five here in Iraq, all staffed with Soldiers from the 464th Med. Co. (DS). Soldiers who come to the clinic are not only able to benefit from dental services and cleanings, but they can also have mouth guards and partial or full dental inserts created within a very short time thanks to the two-person dental laboratory.
Here, the lab supports all the dental clinics in Iraq. "This lab is non-stop," said Spc. Bruce Williams, a dental lab technician from Chicago, as he mixed a gooey substance that will end up as a mold for a mouth guard. "We can make partials and bridges that are sent via Federal Express to Fort Gordon, Ga., and Germany that get back to the Soldiers very quickly," he added.
"Having the clinic here is a huge asset and helps keep Soldiers ready to fight," said Callin. "Look at it like a preventative maintenance checks and service (PMCS). You have to PMCS your vehicles and you should to do the same with your body."
The clinic is open Monday through Saturday and the sick call hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. each day. Appointments are booked for the afternoons. Since January 2009, the dental clinic here has seen more than 31,000 patients and the work the Soldiers of the 464th has performed has saved their patients more than $13 million worth of dental services.
"If you take good care of your teeth by brushing and flossing, it cuts down on plaque buildup which lets you preserve what you have longer and your yearly cleanings won't be traumatic," said Callin.
It's recommended that Soldiers take the time to exercise good dental hygiene while deployed and make sure they get a dental exam while in theater. It keeps records current and prevents complications later when Soldiers redeploy.
That toothbrush and dental floss may seem like cheap plastic but they can save you what can amount to thousands of dollars in dental care if used every day.