SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras, –
Hugs, high-fives, smiling faces and roaring applause greeted members of a U.S. military dental team as they entered the Lempira Elementary School auditorium April 29 for the closing ceremony of a dental clinic in Tegucigalpa.
The team, including dental personnel from U.S. Dental Command and Joint Task Force-Bravo, conducted a Dental Readiness Training Exercise (DENTRETE) in Tegucigalpa April 19-29, providing free, high-quality dental care to 171 students from Lempira School and Monsignor Fiallos School.
The elementary school children received comprehensive dental care, including classes on basic dental hygiene, cleanings, cavity fillings, extractions and more. Many of the students came from underprivileged families with little or no access to regular dental care.
"It's a pleasure to be here working with these children who have a real need to see a dentist," said Maj. Brent Clark, mission commander and pediatric dentist from Ft. Benning, Ga. "When we give the dental hygiene classes, a lot of the children say this is the first time they're being taught how to brush and floss."
The dentists treated approximately 30 children a day and averaged more than ten procedures per patient. The dental team performed a total of 1,983 procedures, including extractions when there were no other options to save the students' teeth.
"We see different dental problems here because the children don't have access to regular care. It's been really tough to see cases like 12-year-old boys with all rotten teeth," said Staff Sgt. Denise Lott, a dental hygienist from Ft. Benning, Ga. "It makes you appreciate what we have in the United States."
This was the tenth year JTF-Bravo and U.S. Dental Command conducted the DENTRETE in Tegucigalpa. The DENTRETE began as part of a "healthy schools" initiative in Honduras in 2001, when the dental team began working with Lempira School. Monsignor Fiallos School was added in 2002, and the relationship with both schools has continued ever since.
"If we focus on a few schools, we can have a real impact and see changes over time," said Dr. Wilmer Amador, JTF-Bravo Medical Element liaison officer. "You can see a difference in a lot of the kids who we've seen repeatedly over the years."
The DENTRETE not only benefits the students who receive treatment, but also the dental personnel who gain experience caring for children with a variety of dental problems.
"Our team includes four residents from Ft. Sill's Advanced Education in General Dentistry Program, and they don't have pediatric dentistry there," said Major Clark. "This is an opportunity for the residents to increase their confidence in working with children."
JTF-Bravo, based out of Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, participated in the dental clinic by sending a dental hygienist, dental assistant and liaison officer. The DENTRETE supports JTF-Bravo's overall mission, which includes providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Central America.
"Any opportunity that we have to get into the community helps us build relationships," said Capt. Nathaniel Caldon, JTF-Bravo dentist. "It serves a lot of good. We get to give back to Hondurans and represent the military in a positive way."
As the schoolchildren treated the dental team to a rock-stars' reception at the closing ceremony, it was clear the DENTRETE had a positive impact on the students. And, after weeks of performing dental treatments on the children in the audience, the dental team could enjoy seeing the fruits of their labor--hundreds of bright, healthy smiles looking back at them.