Skip to main content

Military Health System

Why Dental Health is Essential for Warfighters and Military Readiness

Image of U.S. Air Force Major Rachael Parrish, 20th Dental Squadron general dentist, performs an oral exam on Airman 1st Class Amie Bickford, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron munitions technician at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, March 13, 2017. Airmen assigned to the 20th DS are tasked with ensuring airmen and soldiers on base meet all dental class requirements for deployment. U.S. Air Force Major Rachael Parrish, 20th Dental Squadron general dentist, performs an oral exam on Airman 1st Class Amie Bickford, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron munitions technician at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, March 13, 2017. Airmen assigned to the 20th DS are tasked with ensuring airmen and soldiers on base meet all dental class requirements for deployment (Airman 1st Class Christopher Maldonado, 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs).

Recommended Content:

TRICARE Dental Care | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

To help service members understand the importance of healthy teeth, some dentists use military-style terminology.

Tooth decay is an "enemy you are fighting" and you need to "execute a plan to eliminate that foe," said Air Force Col (Dr.) Robin Fontenot, a consultant to the Air Force Surgeon General for expeditionary dentistry.

Fontenot compares routine dental check-ups to aircraft maintenance.

"For our patients in the maintenance world, I like to relate these visits to PM (or preventive maintenance) on their equipment. It's a lot less costly to perform preventive maintenance on any piece of equipment than it is to wait until failure," Fontenot said.

By all criteria, dental health is a key component of "readiness," both for individuals and for units.

About one in five non-battlefield injuries reported by deployed service members are related to dental problems, Fontenot said.

And for those service members who are not up to date on their routine dental screenings, the risk increases significantly.

"A force that is not dentally prepared may see a five-fold increase in deployed dental emergencies," Fontenot said.

Among the greatest concerns is the risk of acute and painful teeth problems, ones that would make it difficult for a person to focus on their mission and might require immediate dental treatment.

More broadly, oral health is important for your whole body. Lack of good dental-oral health can lead to bacterial infections or other conditions that may be serious and affect readiness and mission capabilities.

A key responsibility for military dentists is to decrease the levels of dental emergencies and urgent care requirements during a deployment. That mission "gets at the very core foundation of why we have routine dental appointments" before deployments, Fontenot said.

"These appointments get a member to a best case state of oral health and set up an easier process of maintenance. By getting the annual dental exam and regular dental cleaning, we have established conditions that will lessen the likelihood of dental emergencies."

Linking Oral Health and Overall Health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes how cavities, also known as tooth decay or dental caries, are the greatest unmet health treatment need worldwide.

"As a dentist, I see dental health as a very fundamental need just like proper nutrition and physical fitness," Fontenot said.

He pointed to numerous studies that show the relationship between periodontal disease and systemic disease such as diabetes and coronary heart disease. "Not that people with systemic disease also have increased incidence of periodontal disease, but it is the fact that periodontal disease exacerbates the systemic conditions. So if you ask where the absence of dental health ranks as a problem—my opinion is 10 out of 10."

"Regular check-ups once a year and radiographs when required ensure treatment of dental disease early with the best materials and the best techniques," said Air Force Col Jay Graver, chief, Defense Health Agency Dental Clinical Management Team. Dental Readiness is a component of the Individual Medical Readiness program.

"The mouth is a gateway to the body," Graver said. "Bad oral hygiene can lead to systemic issues. Additionally, it can lead to problems with eating, which leads to poor or inadequate food intake." Those factors could negatively affect personal and mission readiness.

"If you don't keep up with your oral hygiene, it's a slippery slope to tooth decay, gingivitis, and abscesses," Graver said.

If decay progresses, "you are prone to more invasive treatment, such as root canals, crowns or tooth removal. If gum conditions such as gingivitis are not treated they can lead to periodontitis, or gum abscesses, he said.

The Remedy

Fontenot's main advice is to "master oral health."

"It is not enough to push the brush over your teeth once or twice a day in order to check the box. It is the understanding of the invisible enemy you are fighting, and to develop and execute a plan to eliminate that foe," Fontenot said.

"It is perfecting the art of brush and floss manipulation so that plaque and bacteria never have the opportunity to ruin your day."

Lower first molars are the most commonly restored teeth in the mouth, Fontenot noted. "As much as I would like to say that dentists are perfect, our materials are not. Restorations can fail and require replacement."

The most common tooth to require endodontic treatment, crowns, and the most common tooth (beyond wisdom teeth) that require extraction is the mandibular first molar. Those are the sixth tooth to the right and left of your front teeth.

"Extraction of any tooth within the arch demands properly timed replacement, so my second piece of advice is after you master oral health, put it to work on your mandibular first molars," Fontenot said.

Dental fitness is one of eight domains in the Department of Defense's Total Force Fitness framework. The framework builds healthy habits and improves the military's mission capabilities. Although dental issues make up less than 20% of patient visits, service members' medical readiness depends on healthy teeth.

Dental specialty training provides unique, readiness-focused capabilities such as dental forensics, osteo-stabilization, soft tissue suturing, treatment of maxillofacial infections, triage concepts, intravenous fluid or drug administration, environmental decontamination, and military working dog root canal therapy and prosthodontics.

"Our job as dentists in the military is to keep our soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen ready for deployment, and we have the full spectrum of care capabilities to support and optimize care of the armed forces' dental health," Graver said.

You also may be interested in...

Lung Cancer Leading Cause of Cancer Death

Article
11/22/2022
 U.S Navy MRI technologist behind a computer screen with a magnetic resonance machine in the background.

With November being Lung Cancer Awareness Month, be aware of symptoms, causes, and steps to take if you think you need screening.

Recommended Content:

Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

For Sexually Transmitted Infections, Young People are at Higher Risk

Article
6/13/2022
Protect yourself in the war against sexually transmitted infections. If you have questions about where to find free condoms, STI testing, or treatment, contact your health care provider or local installation clinic.

Every year, thousands of service members are diagnosed with at least one sexually transmitted infection. Topping the list of the most common are chlamydia, gonorrhea, and genital herpes, military health data shows.

Recommended Content:

Sexually Transmitted Infection Prevention | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Men's Health | Women's Health

Doctors Recommend Sunscreen for All Skin Complexions

Article
6/13/2022
The dangers of too much sunlight – from sunspots to skin cancer – are real risks for everyone regardless of skin complexion, doctors say.

The dangers of too much sunlight – from sunspots to skin cancer – are real risks for everyone regardless of skin complexion, doctors say.

Recommended Content:

Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Summer Safety

Kids' Teeth Grinding Usually Stops Around Age 9 or 10 - But Not Always

Article
4/15/2022
A child receives dental treatment during the “Give Kids a Smile” day event March 9, 2019, held by the 375th Dental Squadron clinic on Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. Children registered for the event were given the chance to receive cleanings, fillings, and more at no cost to their parents. (Photo: Airman 1st Class Isaiah Gonzalez, 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs)

Do you ever see or hear your child grinding his or her teeth or clenching his or her jaws during the day or at night while sleeping? That’s a potentially serious health problem. Teeth grinding in kids may require a night guard.

Recommended Content:

Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Children's Health | TRICARE Dental Care

Military Dentists Provide Relief and Support in Central America

Article
3/8/2022
U.S. Army Sgt. Thomas Lemieux (center), dental assistant with Army Forces Battalion, Joint Task Force-Bravo, and Col. Franklin Florence (right), general dentist with Army Forces Battalion, Joint Task Force-Bravo, prepare a patient for an extraction with assistance from a Honduran volunteer during a Global Health Engagement at Los Laureles, Santa Barbara department, Honduras, Feb. 15. JTF-Bravo, in conjunction with Honduran Ministry of Health representatives, conducted the mission to provide dental and other medical services with volunteer support from Honduran medical students, who served as interpreters.

Dental woes are common to everyone, everywhere. U.S. military medical and dental specialists conducted a Global Health Engagement with partners in Santa Barbara, Honduras, in February, where they provided dental and primary care services to local Hondurans.

Recommended Content:

Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | TRICARE Dental Care

Teeth Grinding: You Won't Believe How Harmful it Really Is

Article
2/28/2022
U.S. Navy Hospitalman Justin Sobleskie (right), and U.S. Navy Lt. Matthew Roberts, USS Carter Hall dental department head, do dental work on aboard the USS Carter Hall (LSD 50) while at sea.

Grinding your teeth, called bruxism, can lead to migraines and neck pain or require surgery to replace the joint in your jaw.

Recommended Content:

TRICARE Dental Care | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

The Chief of the Army Dental Corps Talks Dental Health & Readiness

Article
2/22/2022
The Army’s top dentist talks about what service members should keep in mind about their dental health.

Here’s what the Army’s top dentist thinks service members should keep in mind about their dental health.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Total Force Fitness | TRICARE Dental Care

A Deployed Dentist Recalls His 'One-Chair' Clinic in Afghanistan

Article
2/16/2022
Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Andrew Gutierrez did a tour of duty as a dentist downrange in Afghanistan.

“The soldiers knew whether there was a dentist on base. Those who needed something found me.”

Recommended Content:

TRICARE Dental Care | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

How 3D-Printed Teeth and Other New Tech are Transforming Dental Care

Article
2/15/2022
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jaden Murry had nearly all of his lower jaw removed because of a tumor. The procedure was the DOD’s first ever immediate jaw reconstruction surgery using 3D-printed teeth.

Advances in dental technology are improving care and increasing the number of patients willing to get treatment when needed.

Recommended Content:

TRICARE Dental Care | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

Women’s Heart Attacks Symptoms Can Differ from Men’s: Know the Signs

Article
2/11/2022
Signs and symptoms of a heart attack can differ between women and men. If you have any of these symptoms, call 911 quickly.

Doctors say women sometimes fail to recognize their unique warnings signs for heart problems.

Recommended Content:

Heart Health Toolkit | Total Force Fitness | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Heart Health | Women's Health

Dentally Unready: Gen. George Washington's Lifetime of Dental Misery

Article
2/3/2022
Visitors to the George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate and museum in Mount Vernon, Virginia, can see George Washington’s only remaining full denture among the collection. They include his own pulled and saved teeth, other human teeth, teeth from cows and horses that were filed to fit, and teeth carved from elephant ivory.

No, George Washington did not have wooden teeth. But he did struggle with dental problems for most of his life.

Recommended Content:

Our History | TRICARE Dental Care | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

Ask the Doc: Overcoming Your Fear of the Dentist

Article
2/1/2022
Patient getting dental care

Seeing the dentist can be scary. Here are some tips for how to make your next visit easier.

Recommended Content:

TRICARE Dental Care | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Ask The Doc

Do You Have COVID-19? Influenza? Or is it RSV? Here’s What to Look For

Article
1/24/2022
Military personnel preparing a COVID-19 test sample for processing

Knowing the symptoms of COVID-19/RSV/Flu will help your medical treatment

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus & the MHS Response | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Children's Health

Flu Vaccination Rates are Running High Across the Military This Year

Article
12/8/2021
Image of a woman giving someone an injection on the arm.

Rates of flu vaccination among service members are significantly higher than in previous years.

Recommended Content:

Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Toolkit | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Immunizations | Influenza, Northern Hemisphere

Flu Shots are Available Now And Are More Important than Ever

Article
10/13/2021
Military personnel getting their flu shot

It’s flu season. Get vaccinated. COVID-19 concerns should redouble desire to get vaccinated against the flu.

Recommended Content:

Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Toolkit | Immunizations | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Influenza, Northern Hemisphere
<< < 1 2 3 > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 3
Refine your search
Last Updated: February 08, 2022
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery