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Dental deploys, serves Hawaii's underserved

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Amy Adducchio
  • 178 FW/PA
     Dentists don't typically make house calls, but this may be as close as they get. Equipped with two, fully-functional dental chairs, the West Hawaii Community Health Center's Dental Mobile Van allows healthcare professionals to provide service to those who may not have access or the means to good dental care.

     The van's current occupants are from the 178th Medical Group, Ohio Air National Guard, which is on a two-week training deployment June 7 - 17 to Kona, Hawaii.

     The West Hawaii Community Health Center established a preliminary patient schedule before the dental team arrived in Kona with the 178 MDG. Walk-in patients were worked into the schedule when possible.

     "Most of the time, in certain areas, the patients just wait until there's acute pain. Then at that time, they go to the emergency room or they see a physician or a dentist. The tooth either gets pulled or they go on antibiotics," said Doctor Nguyen, a dentist with the 178 MDG. "But what's been nice, is that at some of the locations, we're able to catch those beforehand. We're doing a lot more fillings...we're actually able to restore the teeth before they end up losing them."

     Doctor Nguyen, as well as Maj. (Dr.) Suzanne Maslo, the dental flight commander for the 911th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, Pittsburgh Air Reserve Station, and Maj. (Dr.) Wade Newman, a dentist with the 193rd Medical Group, Pennsylvania Air National Guard, served as the dental providers for the 178 MDG deployment.

     These providers and 178 MDG dental hygienists are able to train in a deployment environment, as well as care for the medically served on Hawaii's "Big Island."

     "Restorative procedures range from a simple, one-surface filling to a whole build up of the tooth. We figured out what the health center's costs would be if they had to pay. They can range from just a filling itself at $80 to $400," said Doctor Nguyen.

     During the first four days, the dental unit saw more than 90 patients and performed approximately $23,800 in total services according to the clinic fee schedule, which is less than what a private practice in the area would charge.

     "Our folks get two weeks of full training. They're busy," said Doctor Nguyen. "There's not one [patient] who has a problem with one tooth. It's multiple teeth. It's always multiple teeth."

     "I found [the dental team] to be very compassionate and willing to work with patients. It's been a pleasure working with everyone in this type of environment. It's a small van, it's crowded, and everybody just seemed to work really well from my perspective," said Petra Reinhardt, a worker from West Hawaii Community Health Center who has supported the dental van for the majority of the deployment.

     Ms. Reinhardt and Dr. Nguyen both found that the patients are grateful for the team's services.

     "Everyone's been waiting, and they're very appreciative for anything that we do, whether it's even just waiting for a cleaning, getting a check up, all the way to getting extractions. Even when they come in and they're not [expecting] an extraction...they are appreciative and know that this is something that's going to happen to keep them from having pain in the near future," said Doctor Nguyen.

     "One patient actually left a thank you card for the doctors and staff on the van. Another patient brought mangos and fruit for us," said Ms. Reinhardt.

     Since October 2009, the Dental Mobile Van typically operates two days each week at The Friendly Place, a homeless service center, and will continue you to after the unit's departure, said Ms. Reinhardt.