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Poor dental health leading cause of readiness issues

Air Force Lt. Col. Val Hagans and Army Spc. Laketa Bryant extract a patient's wisdom teeth at Kirkuk Regional Air Base, Iraq in 2010. (Photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Tabitha Kuykendall)  Air Force Lt. Col. Val Hagans and Army Spc. Laketa Bryant extract a patient's wisdom teeth at Kirkuk Regional Air Base, Iraq in 2010. (Photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Tabitha Kuykendall)

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Dental Care | Deployment Health | Reserve Health Readiness Program

In 2008, 40 percent of DoD Selected Reserve troops were classified as unfit for duty for a surprising reason: dental readiness. Many others sent downrange developed dental problems during deployment.

“When they reported to their deployment centers before leaving the U.S., they said their teeth didn’t hurt and were told they were deployable, said Army Col. David DuBois, dental surgeon for the U.S. Army’s Reserve Command. “When they got to their destination, it turned into a disaster.”

To correct the situation, the services put new dental programs in place. In the past eight years, the services have reduced the proportion of unfit troops due to dental problems from 40 percent of all military reservists to 10 percent.

“Historically, dental readiness was the most problematic Department of Defense individual medical readiness requirement,” said Army Col. James Honey, chief of TRICARE dental care section. “But we put more resources on the problem and now see better dental readiness within the services.”

One such program, the Army Selected Reserve Dental Readiness System, which uses the Reserve Health Readiness Program as the primary contract vehicle, allows soldiers to receive no-cost examinations, as well as treatment of Dental Fitness Classification (DFC) 3 conditions at no cost, helping commanders at all levels reach unit dental ready status. It also sends reminders to soldiers about upcoming dental appointments and tracks dental readiness to prevent the need for examination and DFC 3 treatment when the unit is alerted and arrives at the mobilization station.

Honey said enhancements to prevention and access to dental care help increase readiness for all service members.

“We see this as the same as any physical fitness requirement or wearing the uniform properly,” said Honey. “We expect everyone to have dental readiness.”

Teeth have to be as healthy as possible before deployment because rough conditions in deployed locations can tax the body’s abilities to respond to health issues, including dental problems. DuBois said the choice between dental care at home and dental care downrange is obvious.

“If I had to choose between a nice, air-conditioned office or a makeshift clinic in tough conditions, I know which one I would want,” said DuBois. “It’s much better to take care for this stuff at home.”

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