Dental Clinic keeps airmen ready for deployments

  • Published
  • By Angela Woolen
  • Robins Public Affairs
Tooth pain can be a minor nuisance, or it could be enough to cause an airman to be medically evacuated from a war zone.

The 78th Dental Clinic here has the unique mission of ensuring those small aches and potential emergencies are dealt with before troops deploy.

Lt. Col. Joanna McPherson, the clinic flight commander, and her staff work with unit health monitors, who in turn work with each active duty person to schedule dental exams.

Thousands of dollars are spent yearly to medically evacuate airmen for wisdom teeth removal and for tooth pain. The dental clinic here wants to cut down that cost by catching and correcting problems before service members depart.

"If you think there'll be a problem, you pull them," she said of wisdom teeth.

One of the benefits at Robins is the clinic has a CEREC machine which allows crowns to be made for teeth in one day. Not all bases have the equipment to perform that function.

"We're fortunate enough to have that," she said. "It's a huge benefit to us and to our patients."

For qualifying patients, the machine reduces the amount of down time a person spends waiting for a permanent crown to come in.

"We've cut down the wait by over 30 days," McPherson said. "It's just another tool in our toolbox."  Annual exams are important, she said, because dentists can nip any problem in the bud before it gets out of hand.

There are four classifications - from one to four - that the clinic uses to rate its patients. Classifications range from "no treatment needed" to "not recommended for deployment."

"If there's a deep cavity or impacted wisdom teeth, then we don't recommend the airman be deployed," McPherson said.

The clinic performs an average of 300 exams a month.

McPherson said it's a personal goal to ensure people are seen within a timely manner. If a person needs to be seen for a regular dental check-up, she'd like that person to have an appointment within 21 days.

"My biggest goal is to get people in for treatment for preventative purposes so the commanders are able to manage their resources for deployment," she said.