By Douglas H Stutz, NHB/NMRTC Bremerton public affairs officer –
By Douglas H Stutz, NHB/NMRTC Bremerton public affairs officer -- As was the case 108 years ago, the Navy Dental Corps continues to ensure mission readiness, provide fleet support, and deliver care to those in need.
Amidst also helping to stop the spread of COVID-19, Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command (NMRTC) Bremerton Dental Clinic staff took the time to acknowledge their Dental Corps birthday officially established August 22, 1912.
There were sentiments shared, other Navy corps’ chief well-wishes displayed, and the traditional cake-cutting held. Before returning back to their patients, there was time for a reflective moment.
“As a young officer at my first Dental Corps ball in Bethesda, Md., where I actually commissioned to attend the 100th anniversary, Vice Adm. Matthew Nathan, who was the Navy Surgeon General then, took the time to talk to me, which I found amazing,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jerry Cheng, Branch Health Clinic Bangor Dental department head. “Our current chief of the Dental Corps, Rear Adm. Rick Freedman, I met on Okinawa. This is the greatest experience of my life. My wife, currently assigned to USS Nimitz, joined before I did, and I actually joined to practice dentistry with her on Okinawa. Our Dental Corps sees all different parts of the world. We have a world-wide reach. No other branch of Navy Medicine has so many different duty stations as us.”
The BHC Bangor's Dental Clinic has a crucial role in operational readiness for active duty personal. They handle the oral care of military service members to prevent or remedy diseases, disabilities and injuries of the teeth, jaw and related structures that may interfere with performance of military duty.
“We still remain in high operational readiness despite being shorthanded due to transfers. We prioritize deploying units first, which doesn’t mean ignoring any others. We will get to them,” said Cheng.
Emergency treatments to relieve pain, control infection, and/or repair trauma for any person are top priorities for the Dental Clinic. The staff also strives to ensure every military member has an annual dental exam and twice-a-year cleaning to reduce the risk of oral disease.
“Since March, it’s business as usual,” said Cheng, noting that before arriving at his current duty station, when assigned to Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center, North Chicago, there was a need for constant dental support for the thousands of recruits entering the Navy. There is also a similar, ongoing need to provide unceasing care in the nation’s third largest fleet concentration for thousands of active duty Sailors.
How busy are they? A brief snapshot from BHC Bangor's Dental Clinic calendar year 2019 shows that there were 108,544 dental procedures performed, 23,173 dental patient encounters, and 18,001 dental lab procedures.
The procedures and encounters continue for 2020, even during the ongoing pandemic outbreak.
“In regards to dealing with our patients during this time of COVID-19, by the time they get to us, they’ve already been through the screening process. The challenge for us in dental is realizing that we have to balance our needs with Medical. We all share supplies, and we are all in this together. This time has also allowed us as add profound modifications. We are now more thorough. We’ve been creative to accommodate our patients and following proper protocol with more safety precautions in place like wearing proper personal protective equipment,” remarked Cheng. “We have to meet the mission. We have implemented structural changes in the clinic that have been profound, leading to better protection of staff and patient and improved patient privacy.”
“The challenge is for all of us to maintain that high level of awareness and attention to precautions as we go about our daily routines,” added Capt. Mary Neill, staff periodontist. “We have to take time to care for ourselves. The new normal requires extra thought and effort in making sure we can remain a healthy and resilient medical force ready to respond to our patients’ needs. The operational forces, as well as their family members, are counting on us during this challenging time.
The dental services provided are noted by the high Operational Dental Readiness (ODR) of over 96 percent for approximately 11,000 fleet and shore based personnel stationed in the Pacific Northwest. ODR provides a measure of a command’s dental health and readiness. Military doctrine requires rapid response and periods of prolonged sustainment of deployed forces. Untreated oral disease may result in pain and infection that impairs individual performance and unit operational effectiveness.
ODR has been, and continues to be, an integral component of combat readiness, and NHB’s dental clinic, even during a state of flux with transfers and deployment, handles the responsibility for ensuring that all Sailors and Marines assigned to their respective commands in Navy Region Northwest are fit for current and future readiness.
“We provide comprehensive dental care to operational forces in the submarine services. These warfighters have an extremely challenging operational tempo with little down time so we need to optimize the time we have with them and stress prevention strategies. The last thing a submarine independent duty corpsman wants to treat while undersea and on patrol is a dental infection! We keep a very tight recall schedule with this population,” remarked Neill.
Along with what’s considered the main dental clinic at BHC Bangor, there is also an Oral Surgery clinic at NHB/NMRTC Bremerton, and another dental clinic at BHC Everett, totaling approximately 75 staff members assigned overall.