Dental clinic: Making a good impression

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Cortney Paxton
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
Unfortunately, a visit to the dentist is commonly associated with bright lights, sharp instruments and painful procedures; but behind all of these seemingly unpleasant things are hard-working, skilled individuals.

The Malmstrom Air Force Base Dental Clinic has more than 20 dentists and technicians operating these bright lights and sharp instruments, and performing these painful procedures, but that doesn't stop them from enjoying what they do.

"I love my job," said Staff Sgt. Shaleena Pullium, 341st Medical Operations Squadron dental prophylaxis technician. "I love talking to the patients and getting to know them. I love helping them learn how to take better care of their teeth."

The dental clinic staff performs routine cleanings and exams on active-duty members and sometimes Montana Air National Guardsmen. They also provide fillings, x-rays, root canals, oral surgeries and other dental procedures as needed to keep Team Malmstrom healthy.

Taking care of Airmen's oral hygiene is the dental clinic members' main priority, but by helping members with their oral hygiene, they're also doing much more for the overall health of the individual.

"Oral hygiene is very important," said Maj. Clay Jensen, 341st MDOS clinical element leader. "When you look at it from a personal standpoint, I don't think my wife would kiss me if I came at her with nasty breath and gross teeth. Health-wise, it's also very important because your oral health affects your entire body. [Bad oral hygiene can cause] heart disease and low-birth-weight babies, affect diabetes, and has a tendency to make you even worse [even with] good hygiene. It affects a lot of your body systemically if you don't have good oral hygiene."

A person's body wouldn't be the only thing that suffers from poor oral hygiene. Individuals in the Air Force who don't take care of their teeth could develop problems that would hinder their abilities in their career field and, ultimately, the Air Force.

"We make sure that all members that come through the clinic for dental care are on a Class-I readiness level and not Class-III readiness," said Lt. Col. Marco Galvez, 341st MDOS dental services chief. "Class III is non-deployable so we support the mission by making sure everyone has the overall care needed in a timely manner - by taking care of their dental needs."

Malmstrom's Dental Clinic is relatively small compared to other clinics in the Air Force. However, according to Galvez, having a smaller team allows for better attention to the quality of dentistry offered to the patients.

"As providers in a dental setting in the military, we focus on the quality of care," Galvez said. "The private setting may focus on that as well, but they also have the financial component and the insurance component of who gets what and such. Here, in the medical side of the Air Force, we can provide dental care to whoever needs it; that's how we make them mission-fit. In another regard, we have a lot of checks and balances here, so we cannot just do whatever we want to do. We have to make sure they're under the best standard of care - we do a lot of high-quality dentistry."

Along with better-quality work, the smaller number of workers in the clinic makes teamwork and morale that much more important. According to Jensen, with less people, the work load can get bigger but teamwork increases as each member has to rely on the others to keep the dental clinic running efficiently.

But teamwork doesn't stop at the entrance. The Airmen in the dental section have a good working relationship with the rest of the medical clinic. Oral hygiene could lead to other medical complications and Malmstrom's Personnel Reliability Program has to be properly maintained, so teamwork between the dental clinic and the rest of the medical sections is extremely important.

"We have an open communication with the medical side," Galvez said. "We have great support from the MDOS commander, who allows us to take ownership of this practice. It's a little bit different than the medical side because we have different matrices and focus on active-duty members only, not dependents... but I think we all have the same mission - to get everybody healthy enough to be able to accomplish the mission."

With Malmstrom's deter and assure mission, keeping all those who support it healthy is a substantial responsibility. So the next time Airmen step into the clinic, they shouldn't think about the bright lights, sharp instruments and painful procedures; instead, they should think about the role the practitioners and technicians are playing in their oral - and overall - health.

"We are trying to protect the nation's finest," Jensen said.