In 2008, 40% of Department of Defense Selected Reserve troops were classified as unfit for duty due to their dental readiness. Many others sent downrange developed dental problems during their deployment.
“When they reported to their deployment centers before leaving the United States, they said their teeth didn’t hurt and were told they were deployable,” said Army Col. David DuBois, a dental surgeon for the US Army Reserve Command. “When they got to their destination, it turned into a disaster.”
To correct the situation, the Armed Services put new dental programs in place. In the past 8 years, the services have reduced the proportion of unfit troops due to dental problems from 40% of all military reservists to 10%.
“Historically, dental readiness was the most problematic Department of Defense individual medical readiness requirement,” said Army Col. James Honey, chief of the TRICARE military healthcare program’s dental care section. “But we put more resources on the problem and now see better dental readiness within the services.”
For example, the Army Selected Reserve Dental Readiness System uses the Reserve Health Readiness Program as the primary contact vehicle to allow soldiers to receive no-cost exams and treatment of Dental Fitness Classification (DFC) 3 conditions and no cost. DFC 3 indicates a dental condition that, if not treated, will result in a dental emergency within 12 months.
The Army Selected Reserve Dental Readiness System helps commanders at all levels reach unit dental ready status. It also sends reminders to soldiers about upcoming dental appointments and tracks dental readiness to prevent the need for examination and DFC 3 treatment when the unit is alerted and arrives at the mobilization station.
Enhancements to prevention and access to dental care help increase readiness for all service members, Honey said.
“We see this as the same as any physical fitness requirement or wearing the uniform properly,” said Honey. “We expect everyone to have dental readiness.”
Teeth need to be as healthy as possible before deployment because rough conditions in deployed locations can tax the body’s abilities to respond to health issues, including dental problems. the Military Health System reports. The choice between dental care at home and dental care downrange is obvious, DuBois said.
“If I had to choose between a nice, air-conditioned office or a makeshift clinic in tough conditions, I know which one I would want,” said DuBois. “It’s much better to take care of this stuff at home.”