FORT SILL, Okla. -- Four Fort Sill dentists completed the Comanche Residency Program Advanced Education in General Dentistry 1 year, a rigorous academic and clinical course for new Army dentists.

Captains Jeremy Koppenhaver, Troy Lundell, Dinh Nguyen and Ryan Swiss graduated July 16, during a ceremony at Frontier Chapel Center here.

Armed to the teeth with their new knowledge, two of the dentists will go to the field and the others will continue with their dental education.

"The residency was very challenging. I feel my clinical skills have dramatically increased," said Koppenhaver, who will deploy to Afghanistan. "I feel a lot more confident in my dentistry." Koppenhaver, 28, is a 2009 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine.

The AEGD-1 program exposes recent licensed dental graduates to traditional dental specialties in a supervised setting, said Col. Charles Sabadell, Comanche Residency Program AEGD-1 director, U.S. Army Dental Activity Command Fort Sill.

"They can get a lot of experience, in a little bit of time (12 months)," he said.

The residents, who graduated from civilian dentals schools and came into the Army as captains, spent about two months immersed in each specialty treating patients at some of Fort Sills' five dental clinics.

The specialties included prosthodontics (crown, dentures, bridge work); endodontics (root canals); periodontics (gums, gum diseases); oral maxillofacial surgery (extractions, dental trauma); and restorative (fillings, cosmetic dentistry), Sabadell said. As part of the program, the dentists also performed pediatric dentistry on needy children during a deployment to Honduras.

Working with mentors, the residents were closely monitored and evaluated until their skill levels were shown to be proficient, Sabadell said.

Fort Sill DENTAC endontic mentor Maj. Joseph Creasy said that during his rotation the resident would see one patient in the morning and one in the afternoon.

"Initially, they (residents) assisted me and then it moved to me assisting them," Creasy said. "Toward the end, they were proficient by themselves and only came to me if they had issues they couldn't handle."

Creasy and mentor Maj. Brad Logie, an oral maxillofacial surgeon, agreed that the residents did well.

"They were absolutely amazing," Creasy said. "I'm proud of each of them."

Completing the post-doctoral program, the new dentists can now serve anywhere in the Army and perform 98 percent of the Soldiers, family members and retirees dental care needs, said Fort Sill DENTAC Commander Col. Mary Jo Corbett.

The Fort Sill AEGD-1 program originally began in 1966, to train dental officers. It was disbanded in 1993, as part of the Dental Corps downsizing and restructuring, according to the commencement program. In 2000, a modified program called the Comanche Residency Program Advanced Education in General Dentistry 1 Year began here under the direction of Maj. Gen. Patrick Sculley, then-deputy surgeon general of the Army, chief of the Army Dental Corps.

The Comanche program gets between four and eight residents a year. Eight residents for the 2010-2011 program are now in-processing at Fort Sill, Sabadell said.

In her remarks during the ceremony, Corbett said that people are the strength and heart of the DENTAC.

"And residents are the life blood. Every year we get a transfusion with new residents," she said. "They challenge us to continue to be a learning organization."

Corbett said the Comanche Residency Program was so named to honor the fiercely independent lords of the plains, the last of the American Indian tribes to surrender at Fort Sill.

She quoted Comanche Chief Ten Bears from 1867: "I was born upon the prairie, where the winds blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun ... ."

Corbett told the graduates to take that spirit with them and never to stop asking, 'why''
"Don't limit yourself. You have to potential to excel at the highest levels of the Army dental health care system," she said.

Now retired, Sculley was the keynote speaker. He said that in 1974, he was a graduate of the Army Dental Internship program, which eventually morphed into the AEGD-1.

"We've changed the name, but the program is still the single finest year of dental education that you can get anywhere and Fort Sill has an outstanding program," he said.

Sculley said that the Army dental care team, which includes not only dentists, but dental assistants, hygienists, lab techs and civilians, is essential to the service.

Dental disease has always been a leading cause of non-battle injuries in the Army, he said.
Soldiers who are out of action because of dental disease, are just as much out of action if they had been wounded in combat, Sculley said.

"We lose a vital member of our team, so we need to focus on dental readiness," he said.