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

Image of The Army’s top dentist talks about what service members should keep in mind about their dental health. Army Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Shan Bagby talks about the 2022 Army Best Medic Competition, the importance of diversity in the dental corps, and some tips service members should keep in mind about dental health.

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Army Brig. Gen. Shan K. Bagby, chief of the Army Dental Corps and commanding general of Army Regional Health Command-Central, spoke with the MHS Communications team to discuss the importance of dental health for service members' readiness, the impact of COVID-19 on his team, the importance of diversity in the military, and his recent visit to the 2022 Army Best Medic Competition.

MHS Communications: You recently attended this year's Army Best Medic Competition (ABMC). How does this type of event prepare soldiers for Army medicine?

Army Brig. Gen. Shan Bagby: The ABMC challenges the Army's best medical personnel in a demanding, continuous, and realistic simulated operational environment that requires competitors to be agile and adaptive, just as they would have to be in a real-world tactical environment. It is designed to be both physically and mentally challenging as well as testing the competitors' tactical medical proficiency and leadership skills. This event shows the strength and adaptability of Army Medicine to support the Army and the Joint Force.

MHS Communications: Particularly during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, why is this competition so relevant for medical soldier teams and their training?

Brig. Gen. Bagby: COVID-19 has not stopped the Army's mission, soldiers around the world must be ready to fight tonight. Our medical soldiers must not only be medically ready but also be ready medical soldiers. Preparing for training and competing in this type of event further prepares our soldiers to be just that – ready at a moment's notice to support the warfighter both here and abroad. Army medics allow warfighters to do their jobs knowing they're in good hands if wounded and keeping our fighting force mission ready.

MHS Communications: Why is physical fitness such an important aspect of this competition and Army medicine?

Brig. Gen. Bagby: Physical fitness is important for any soldier. Being physically fit provides strength, stamina, and survivability for our soldiers to meet the Army mission to deploy, fight, and win our nation's wars by providing ready, prompt, and sustained land dominance by Army forces across the full spectrum of conflict as part of the Joint Force.

MHS Communications: Black health and wellness is this year's theme for Black History Month. What's the importance of increasing diversity in the dental corps?

Brig. Gen. Bagby: Having a diverse workforce is critical to the success of Army Medicine and our Army. Creating an environment where everyone is welcome ensures we can continue to recruit, train, and retain the best. Our organizations, like our society, are best served when we create an environment where people can contribute in a way that enables collective success.

MHS Communications: MHS Communications is highlighting Dental Health Month throughout February. As a dentist and service member, can you talk about the importance of dental health in overall military medicine?

Brig. Gen. Bagby: Military dental officers are highly trained health care professionals that provide dental care to soldiers in garrison and far forward on the battlefield. Military dentistry is integral to military medicine. Oral health is fundamental to the overall readiness and health of the fighting force. For example, published reports reveal a wide range of dental emergency rates in military personnel from 111 to 437 per 1,000 personnel per year. Dental emergencies impact readiness and reduce combat power, both in training and in deployed environments. Studies have shown that soldiers have a greater than 75% chance of experiencing a dental emergency within one year if they are classified as dentally unready; 19% chance of experiencing a dental emergency within one year if they are dentally ready and have minor oral disease, but less than 1% chance of experiencing a dental emergency within one year if they are dentally ready to deploy.

MHS Communications: Can you provide some of the key tips or themes related to dental health you wished all soldiers knew or kept in mind?

Brig. Gen. Bagby: Absolutely. Soldiers should know:

  • Dental cavities, or tooth decay, is a preventable disease.
  • Diet and oral habits like tobacco are influencers of oral health.
  • Tooth decay occurs when the outer layer of the tooth, which is called the enamel, is eroded by acid produced by bacteria.
  • Tooth decay is very prevalent in military aged young adults (those 20 years of age or under) and can impact mission readiness.
  • Tobacco usage (smoking, dipping) and consumption of sodas and high-caloric beverages can be devastating to oral health and prevent a soldier from being mission capable and deployable.
  • If consuming sugary drinks, use a straw to limit contact with the teeth.
  • Brush at least once a day, but optimally twice a day. If unable to brush your teeth with a toothbrush, ensure that you rinse and wipe all tooth surfaces with a cloth.
  • Drink fluoridated water and calcium-fortified beverages to help strengthen teeth.

MHS Communications: In your perspective, how do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the medical community in general and/or the dental community in particular?

Brig. Gen. Bagby: COVID-19 had a huge impact on the medical and dental community. From the way we see patients to the way we protect ourselves against the illness, we all have had to make changes to how we do business. Generally speaking, we have increased the use of virtual health capabilities, made modifications to many services such as drive-up pharmacies and testing centers. We've ensured any necessary adjustments to clinical areas were made to accommodate physical distancing as well as many other things.

Most importantly, however, are our people. The providers and support staff have put in countless hours at testing centers and within our military [hospitals and clinics] caring for the hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries who rely on us every day for their care. Our soldiers have deployed into some of the hardest hit areas providing support to civilian hospitals and cities fighting COVID-19. And then, we are also fighting COVID-19 within our ranks, just as everyone else around the world.

The men and women who make up Regional Health Command-Central and Army Medicine are a dedicated, compassionate, professional, and resilient team of people. Each and every day, they walk into work ready to take care of their patients and each other. So, while COVID-19 may create a change to how we do things, we will remain ready at a moment's notice to take on the next mission that comes to us.

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