NEWS | June 5, 2008

DENTAC Soldiers give tooth fairy a run for her money

By Sgt. Shatara Seymour 363rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Honduran children went in with their mouths wide-opened, braving the drills and needles, as Dental Activity Soldiers from different units provided care for them this week at a local Lions Club as part of Operation Beyond the Horizon 2008. 

More than 50 children had the opportunity to sit and lay back in a dental chair for cleanings, root canals, fillings and extractions. The DENTAC Soldiers brought in chairs, lights, drills, suctions, toothpaste, toothbrushes, fluoride, mirrors, and needles among many other things, including, toys to bring brighter smiles to the children. 

In the makeshift dental clinic in the Lions Club, a little boy sat in a chair receiving a root canal from Maj. Stephen Klein, a dentist from the 185th Medical Company of Stanton, Calif. "We're trying to do our best to save his tooth," Major Klein said. "It was an effective procedure, but he will have to come back, so we can finish." 

Klein said the child was a brave little boy, which facilitated in making the root canal easier in saving his tooth because the nerve cells were dead. "He was tougher than most adults - unbelievable," Major Klein said. 

Before the children make it to a chair, there is a process they must go through. First, the parents must complete paperwork to receive dental care, followed by a cleaning from a hygienist, and finally, a dentist evaluates their teeth to see what work needs to be done, said Maj. Marc Van Tassell, a dentist from the 143rd Medical Company of Salt Lake City and clinic officer-in-charge. 

Some children may need more work than others. "Our primary focus is the permanent teeth - the teeth they are going to have their adult life and any infections and pain they may have," Major Van Tassell said. "We try to relieve the pain and get them better." 

For many of these children, this is the first time they have seen a dentist, and they're not scared; they do very well, Major Van Tassell said. "We've been blessed to have some talents and skills that we can bring to these people," he said. Major Van Tassell has served in Iraq performing a similar mission; however, he worked out in the field quite a bit where he mostly performed extractions. 

Why? "Because all I had was what I could put on my back to take out there," Major Van Tassell said. "Here (in Honduras), we get to do more comprehensive care because we have chairs, lights, suctions, and all that kind of stuff." Costs and fees are associated with receiving dental care. But for these Honduran families, it's free, said Major Van Tassell. 

Soldiers continue to perform multiple missions around the world - lending a helping hand when in need and answering the call to keep the peace and fight for freedom. "Missions like these promote good will for the countries in the Western hemisphere. It shows we care. I think it's very worthwhile," Major Klein said. 

"This is just goodwill. The fact that you can help somebody, and this is the child's first experience of an American; hopefully it's good," Major Van Tassell said. "Hopefully, when they are older, they will remember some American helped me when I was a kid. This will be their first and best impression of Americans."