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Dental technicians on the grind!

  • Published
  • By By Staff Sgt. Nick Wilson
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Drilling, grinding, and rinsing are part of the mission dental technicians from the 509th Medical Operations Squadron complete every day.

The 509th MDOS dental technicians help provide quality dental care to more than 4,000 patients on base each year, and they provide care for all active duty, Air National Guard and reservists on orders.

"Clean teeth and healthy gums mean more than just a nice smile," said Tech. Sgt. Terina Waiganjo, 509th MDOS dental technician. "You will cut down on tartar, plaque, cavities, gingivitis and bone loss. All are signs of an unhealthy mouth and could cause diseases."

One of the benefits of Airmen receiving quality dental care is that it ensures their combat readiness. If Airmen suffer from certain dental issues, they could possibly not be able to deploy, said Staff Sgt. Crystal Rucker, 509th Medical Operations Squadron dental technician.

"The preventive dentistry we perform keeps us fit to fight, and it keeps us going downrange without any problems," Waiganjo said.

One reason members must visit the dental flight before deployments is the high risk of possible emergency treatment or oral diseases going untreated due to individuals not taking care of their teeth while overseas, she said.

To prevent harmful oral infections, dental technicians advise patients to maintain a healthy diet, brush after every meal and floss daily, said Rucker. Having a healthy mouth can prevent issues later down the road.

"A critical contributing factor in completing the mission is maintaining good oral hygiene," Waiganjo said. "Regular oral examinations help diagnose existing diseases to prevent future diseases from occurring."

Trained on a wide range of tasks, dental technicians are responsible for everything from scheduling and confirming patient appointments, to taking dental X-rays, to preparing patients for other dental procedures, said Waiganjo.

"Dental assistants are multi-skilled and very important members of the dental health team," Waiganjo said. "We're all dedicated to assisting dentists with all phases of dentistry."

Providing care for all Airmen on base allows technicians to meet people from all walks of life, she said.

"The most fun is having the opportunity to meet different people and see the different types of personalities every day," Waiganjo said.

Helping patients leave with a new understanding about oral care, and knowing they received the best care possible, is one of the most satisfying aspects of the job, said Rucker.

"It can be incredibly rewarding to help people improve or maintain their oral health because it often has a large impact on their overall well-being," Waiganjo said. "Dental assisting is also in high demand on the outside, so finding a job after the military should be easy."

The job itself is not always easy, however. A major challenge dental technicians face is the physical burden of spending most of their time standing.

"The work can be physically demanding, especially on your feet, back, neck, shoulders, wrists and hands," Waiganjo said. "Safety is also a big concern, since dental assistants work around blood, saliva, infectious diseases and hazardous materials and equipment."

Given that annual dental visits can run about $300, the 509th MDOS spends an average of $2.6 million to take care of its thousands of annual dental appointments. This keeps dental technicians very busy year-round, said Waiganjo.

"A surgery procedure could easily cost about $2,000," Rucker said.

Whether assisting with an annual examination or aiding a root canal procedure, the 509th MDOS dental technicians are constantly polishing, picking and cleaning to keep Whiteman's mission going.

"Our primary job is dental readiness and ensuring Airmen are worldwide qualified for deployment throughout the year," said Master Sgt. Ricky Cabugao, 509th MDOS acting dental flight NCOIC. "We take pride in doing that by providing the best dental care possible."