The U.S. Army Medical Test and Evaluation Activity (USAMTEAC) partnered with the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity (USAMMDA) recently, putting three expeditionary dental treatment devices to the test at Fort Liberty, North Carolina, Sept. 11 - 14.
During the operational testing, medical developers and evaluators with USAMTEAC and USAMMDA worked directly with Soldiers belonging to the 257th Medical Company (Dental Area Support), 44th Medical Brigade. The exercise was designed to assess the real-world utility of the Field Portable Dental System (FPDS); the Dental Filmless Imaging System (DFIS); and the Dental Amalgamator as part of a wider modernization effort to help meet the future frontline dental care needs of U.S. Service Members.
During the scenario-based training, the USAMTEAC and USAMMDA teams captured data to help inform development strategies and ensure suitability of the equipment for military use near the front lines of future wars, according to Wendy Hagan, Dental Program product manager with USAMMDA, based at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
“It’s critical to test and evaluate the devices in multiple ways—through environmental testing, active-duty user touchpoints, real-world scenarios, and realistic operational scenarios—to be sure they are reliable,” said Hagan. “These commercial items need to work on the battlefield to get our Soldiers back into the fight as quickly as possible and save lives.”
Current dental treatment capabilities are not necessarily designed for far-forward use in austere environments, meaning Service Members with non-emergent dental health issues during previous conflicts were triaged and sometimes had to wait for needed dental treatment based on evacuation priorities. During future conflicts, with logistics trains crossing hundreds or thousands of miles, and medical evacuation (medevac) capabilities stretched thin, it will be imperative to have dental care equipment that is rugged, expeditionary, portable, and user-friendly.
The FPDS, DFIS, and Dental Amalgamator are the current and most promising technologies to answer the challenges forecasted for future wars, and touchpoints like the Fort Liberty testing will go a long way to ensuring future U.S. Warfighters have dental treatment as close to the front lines as possible, according to Eitter Rodriguez, an equipment specialist and data collector with USAMTEAC.
“The U.S. Army's dental provider community had the chance to use the FPDS during this operational test, and they offered insightful comments that will help the U.S. Army field the best possible dental equipment for upcoming engagements,” said Rodriguez, who travelled from USAMTEAC’s home at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas to Fort Liberty for the assessment. “This test gave U.S. Army dentists and dental specialists insight into the Army's focus on modernization, and the future capabilities to equip providers at and near the front lines.”
The main advantages of the FPDS, DFIS, and Dental Amalgamator are their commercial availability and compact, portable designs. The three devices are essentially a portable dental office, giving providers the ability to perform routine and emergent dental care closer to the front lines than ever before, a major advancement for dental care in the U.S. Joint Force.
The FPDS is compact and lightweight with a battery-operated handpiece for routine care and treatment in a field environment. Soldiers in the field can recharge the unit using a standard outlet, vehicle batteries or solar panels, and once fully charged, the FPDS can operate for up to 72 hours.
The DFIS comes in a portable hard case and is used to perform dental X-rays in the field with a laptop, two intra-oral sensors, an intra-oral camera, and alignment rings. Deployed Soldiers can use the DFIS to capture, store, and transmit X-ray images and patient data for treatment and documentation at higher echelons of care.
The Dental Amalgamator shakes and mixes amalgam capsules containing mercury and dental alloy particles, such as silver, tin, zinc, and copper, for providers to administer dental fillings in the field.
While no one looks forward to their annual visit to a dentist’s office, oral health is imperative to the holistic health of deployed Warfighters. Dental issues – from broken teeth to deteriorating cavities – can have serious consequences for Service Members who are removed from immediate and accessible dental care. Complicated by large areas of operations and limited medevac capabilities, dental issues that may be a mere annoyance in a garrison environment can become a serious health concern that could impact operational readiness.
The FPDS, DFIS, and Dental Amalgamator are designed to answer the challenges of austerity and medevac prioritization, giving commanders and frontline dental providers an advantage while treating dental maladies, from routine to emergent, according to Hagan. Additionally, operational assessments, like the one at Fort Liberty with the 257th MCDAS, give Soldiers a voice in the development of new systems, providing the intended end users with an opportunity to test the systems and provide direct feedback before they are acquired and fielded by USAMMDA and its partners.
Given the forecasted nature of future operational environments, dental treatment modernization is a high priority for the Department of Defense, and USAMTEAC and USAMMDA are focusing on solutions to best equip America’s Warfighters. A vital component of this effort are the Soldiers who will benefit from today’s modernization and fielding initiatives, and the Soldiers of 257th MCDAS were glad to have the opportunity to get hands-on experience with the devices they may one day use downrange, according to U.S. Army Maj. Gamal A. Baker, chief dental officer with the company.
“The 257th Medical Company (Dental Area Support), as part of 44th Medical Brigade and XVIII Airborne Corps, prides itself on leading Army dentistry into the future operational environment,” said Baker. “The opportunity to be involved in the simultaneous testing of three prospective pieces of dental equipment that push modular and mobile dental capabilities aligns perfectly with our missions of Dental Corps leader development and Force Health Protection.”
Story by Eddie L. Fields, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Sharen D. Denson, and USAMMDA Public Affairs