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Ensuring readiness one mouth at a time

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Valerie Hosea
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs
From their teeth to their toes, Airmen must be hale and hearty to get the Air Force mission accomplished. Dental assistants ensure Airmen wellness by taking care of a small, but mighty body part -- the mouth.

The Sheppard Dental Clinic has more than 50 dental assistants. They do everything from oral surgery to orthodontics to clearing Airmen in Training for their next duty station. Airmen in this career field are trained in all of these sections during their on-the-job training, said Master Sgt. Rita Fraley, the NCOIC of the support flight at the 82nd Dental Squadron.

The Dental Clinic encounters thousands of people each month.

"In June alone we had more than 17,000 encounters in 22 days. That number would have earned nearly $800,000 at a civilian practice," Sergeant Fraley said.

Seeing that many patients can be time-consuming for any clinic, but the Sheppard dental clinic manages to do it all in 8-hour days.

"We usually work from 7:15 a.m.-4:30 p.m. However, we have a provider and assistant on-call 24 hours a day. They rotate weekly," said Master Sgt. Christaleen Hill, the NCOIC of the clinical dentistry flight at the 82nd DS.

Even though the clinic is busy everyday with patients, it's also one of two bases in the Air Force testing the Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application system for Air Force wide deployment.

"This system allows us to view dental and medical records electronically worldwide. An Airman can see their records while they're deployed overseas with this system," Sergeant Fraley said.

Dental assistants are even more important overseas on deployments, she said.

"We keep the active-duty force dentally deployable," she said. "While we're over there, our job is a little bit more challenging because we might not have the same equipment, but we still have to aid the Airmen.

"I love my job because of that instant feeling of gratification you get once your patient feels better. It's probably one of the best jobs in the Air Force," Sergeant Hill said.

Another upside to the career field is the opportunity to give the patients confidence.

"The oral surgery we help with gives patients more confidence. In some cases they feel like they've lived the 'swan effect.' Even braces make people feel more confident," Sergeant Fraley said.