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Dental technicians have a unique mission

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Kimberly A. Yearyean-Siers
  • 59th Medical Wing Public Affairs
The job of a dental assistant, at first glance, seems pretty cut and dry. Looking deeper, there is more than just "cleaning teeth and sucking spit." 

One of the opportunities available in this career field is working with patients who need facial prosthetics.

The 59th Medical Wing's Maxillofacial Prosthetics Department here is one of the few places in the Air Force where a dental technician can get this experience. The position is currently filled by Staff Sgt. Dinah LaDuke, Maxillofacial Prosthodontics Element, NCO in charge.

"We see patients, both young and old, who have either been hurt in the war or have gone through the battle with cancer," Sergeant Laduke said. "Many of the wounded warriors we see have suffered burn injuries to their ears or nose and are going through extensive reconstructive rehabilitation."
Sergeant LaDuke's department makes prosthetic body parts, such as eyes, ears and noses, to treat these patients and restore both their physical and psychological well-being. Patients are referred to the department from various departments, including plastic surgery; ear, nose and throat; radiology and oncology; and ophthalmology.

"I do a lot of administrative work and coordinating with patients from different facilities," Sergeant LaDuke said. "I also explain to the patient what we are going to do to help them feel comfortable with the procedure."

Yet, according to those who work with her, she does so much more. She is responsible for assisting the doctors in the procedures and preparing materials they use. Sergeant LaDuke, who has been doing the job for three years, also provides continuity since a new dentist is chosen for the fellowship each year.

"The dental technician is an integral part of the team, especially for the fellow," said Army Maj. (Dr.) Thomas Gunnell, oral maxillofacial prosthodontics fellow. "Sergeant LaDuke is a great asset, as she has extensive knowledge and displays compassion for every patient."

Sergeant LaDuke has 13 years experience as a dental technician and credits this for her success.

"What helped me was obtaining knowledge and experience in prosthodontics and learning compassion by working with a wide range of people," Sergeant LaDuke said. "I get a great feeling of satisfaction helping restore a person's appearance to what it was before, and working with and getting to know the wounded warriors. Their amazing stories are truly awesome."