ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. --
George Washington’s wooden teeth are a tall tale. Though a myth, this legend made people think about the importance of good dental hygiene. It also could have scared a child or two into brushing and flossing regularly – or risk wearing wooden teeth for eternity.
Dental technology has evolved, but the Ellsworth Air Force Base 28th Medical Group Dental Clinic’s task has remained the same: guarantee Airmen of the 28th Bomb Wing are up-to-date with their dental requirements.
“Our number one mission is readiness,” said Lt. Col. Marcus Kropf, the 28th MDG dental flight commander. “Our responsibility is to ensure Airmen are cleared. We have to ensure Airman are ready to deploy.”
The Ellsworth dental clinic provides the same high-level care as that of a civilian dental office, but the base clinic’s focus is to keep Airmen healthy and ready to fight U.S. adversaries.
“If we don’t do our jobs here, the situation could get a lot worse while in a deployed location, where dental care might not be available,” Kropf said.
The Ellsworth dental office is successful because of the dentists and hygienists who invest their time in the career field. Kropf is passionate about dental work due to the unique training available to Air Force dentists, training that challenges him to expand his skillset and medical knowledge.
“The thing I find fascinating is that we branch out into the specialty fields while working in a general dentistry clinic,” Kropf pointed out. “I really like the hands-on training we get here. We get to practice a full spectrum of care as opposed to being locked into doing one thing. It really helps, especially if you are going into the private sector after the Air Force.”
The dental clinic is responsible for keeping Airmen’s teeth in exceptional condition and providing first-class care. Without the clinic, Airmen’s teeth can become infected, which can lead to bad breath, pain or even oral diseases. Luckily, the dental clinic keeps sickness at bay and cures what ails mere mortals’ pearly whites.
The clinic offers most of the procedures needed to keep Airmen’s dental health in tip-top shape, Kropf said. Fillings, endodontics, also known as root canals, oral surgery such as wisdom teeth removal, crowns and bridges, and annual checkups can all be performed at the base dental office.
The clinic’s main priority is active-duty Airmen and, though it’s relatively small, the dental team sees a large amount of patients. Kropf explained that he relies on his staff – approximately 20 Airmen – to accomplish the base’s dental mission.
“We see up to 10,000 patients per year,” Kropf said. “We deal with every active-duty members’ teeth, and we have five dentists on base, so we stay busy all year round.”
Teeth can be directly connected to a person’s self-confidence. Having a nice set of pearly whites can make a person feel like showing off their toothy grin; however, teeth in a poor state can make someone restrain from grinning altogether. For Stephanie Dahl, a 28th MDG dental hygienist, the impact teeth have on a person’s outlook on life was her inspiration for joining the career field.
“I have always liked teeth [and] keeping them clean and straight are two of my favorite things,” Dahl commented. “I had braces growing up, so I enjoyed taking care of them. So when the Air Force picked this job for me it was … a perfect fit.”
Dahl has a strong liking for teeth. Because of this, she is eager to go share her love of dental hygiene with other people.
“My favorite part of this job is educating people on the proper ways of dental hygiene,” Dahl said, explaining that mouth is an organ, like any other part of the body, and that people need to take care of it.
Due to the dedicated professionals at the clinic, base members can keep smiling and showing off their pearly white teeth. The Ellsworth AFB dental flight keeps Airmen feeling healthy and fit to fight, one tooth at a time.