Military personnel with poor oral health simply can’t be deployed because it affects their readiness. That’s why the Armed Forces are ramping up their oral healthcare services, including new restorative procedures. For example, practitioners at the William Beaumont Army Medical Center (WBAMC) at Fort Bliss, Tex, recently performed its first total rehabilitation of a full set of teeth supported by 4 implants on an active-duty soldier, improving readiness in a single day.
The operation utilized immediate loading. It required a combined effort from a prosthodontist and laboratory technicians at the Fort Bliss Dental Activity and oral and maxillofacial surgeons at WBAMC. The clinicians inserted 4 titanium custom implants into the jaw in straight and angled positions, into which a custom-made, fixed prosthesis was secured using small bolts that screwed into the implant.
“We take a soldier who is a Class 3, nondeployable soldier, take all the teeth out, give him fixed dentures, and now he’s a Class One,” said Col. Michael Craddock, chief of prosthodontics at Fort Bliss Dental Activity. “It’s a great benefit to service members because they go in with problematic oral health and come out with teeth. The process takes care of soldiers, their quality of life, and readiness of the force.”
“I’ve spent a lot of time in the dentist chair in the last few years. I came back into the Army in 2008 and had some problems with my teeth so the dentist extracted them,” said the patient, Sgt. First Class John Barnes. “In 2010, I received my first implant. In 2014, I deployed and had some mishaps during deployment where my crowns got messed up.”
For Barnes, the procedure meant a relief from dental complications with prior implants, multiple extractions, and restorations. Craddock called Barnes a perfect candidate for the procedure, which had never been attempted at Fort Bliss. When told about the technique, Barnes was more than willing to undergo the procedure as it meant spending less time away from work.
“For me, dental procedures have been bandages since 2008,” said Barnes, whose unit provides medevac support including civilian medevac support for the Southwest, so readiness and availability are essential to his mission. “The implant feels kind of weird, but I feel better and smile more now.”
“Everything worked out smoothly,” said Col. David Fallah, director of oral and maxillofacial surgery at WBAMC, who operated on Barnes. “This procedure does a lot of good for the Soldier, improving function and improving many aspects of the soldier’s quality of life.”
The dental team already has scheduled 4 more procedures of this type at Fort Bliss. In addition to being performed on soldiers, the procedure is being taught as part of WBAMC’s Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Residency Program.
“We always seek to be at the cutting edge of technology,” said Fallah, who has been director of the WBAMC Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Residency Program since 2009. “We strive to be at the forefront of the learning battle.”
While the procedure has been around for some time, Craddock said that advances in equipment and technology have made it more available and more popular with patients who need total dental rehabilitation. On top of medical advances, he added, having the right team together also is vital to successful surgery and restoration.
“It all has to come together, from a fully functioning lab to the surgeon to the restorative dentist,” said Craddock. “This procedure increases readiness and wellness for the service member.”