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News | July 28, 2014

Joint Task Force-Bravo's Medical Element provides preventative dentistry to girls' orphanage

By U.S. Army Sgt. Catherine Tharpe Joint Task Force-Bravo Medical Element

Joint Task Force-Bravo's Medical Element (MEDEL) visited the Hogar de Niños Nazareth, a girls' orphanage, bringing clothes, shoes, toys, and a mission to provide dental care for those in need, July 20.

The preventative dentistry mission was comprised of three elements. The first element provided oral hygiene instructions to all children but especially targeted the younger individuals. MEDEL volunteers taught them the importance of brushing three times a day and an introduction on how to properly floss. The second part was identifying those that would benefit from a dental sealant; a dental sealant fills and seals the pits and fissures of teeth to prevent the development of cavities. The last step was to apply a fluoride varnish to help prevent tooth decay.

The idea of providing preventative dentistry for both the girls and boys orphanages started with the previous MEDEL unit as dentist, U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Mauri Thomas, and MEDEL's dental hygienist, U.S. Army Spc. Brandon Tigges, thought of ways in which they could do more with the skills they have. It required two months of brainstorming the logistics of the mission and another two months of organizing the plan, gathering supplies, and identifying personnel who would ensure a success. Everything used for the preventative dentistry visit from the toothpaste, toothbrushes, fluoride varnish, floss, and sealant was donated by members of MEDEL.

"It goes to noticing a need, a way that I could help that is in line with what I do as a dental hygienist. It is our primary mission to the preventative dental specialist," said Tigges. "In order for preventative dentistry to work you have to target the patient before they develop dental problems; the children who have new teeth are the ones who will have a long lasting impact from what we are doing."

With the help of volunteers who help translate, assist with oral hygiene instructions, apply sealants, or brush fluoride varnish on teeth, MEDEL was able to see 13 patients.

"The preventative dentistry mission is an opportunity to give back. The orphanage runs entirely on donations that they will use to send a child into the community to see a dentist. If we can prevent them from using their limited funds on a dental visit and instead spend those dollars on other things that are needed for the orphanage, then our actions have resulted in a positive impact in these kids' life." said U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Noah Cunningham, non-commissioned officer in charge of MEDEL's orphanages.

MEDEL plans on continuously cycling children through the program from both the girls' and boys' orphanages until every child that could benefit from preventative dentistry is seen. With the many donations of supplies and the service members donation of their time and expertise, many children will have healthier teeth and the orphanage will be able to use their monetary donations for other needs.

JTF-Bravo service members regularly participate in numerous community engagements within Honduras; providing support to orphanages and local villages. JTF-Bravo personnel have supported more than 2,000 children at seven different orphanages in the Comayagua valley since the 1997, spending time interacting with the children, donating much-needed supplies, and doing construction work on the buildings in which the children live.