Go First Class Dental Program Increases Soldier Readiness

Karla L. Gonzalez
Photo by Erin Perez.


Photo by Erin Perez.

The Army has changed the way it handles dental care for its Soldiers, and recent statistics are showing the benefits of that change.

Over the last several years, there has been a marked improvement in dental readiness and wellness thanks to the US Army Dental CorpsGo First Class program. Go First Class beta testing began in January 2011, and since that time dental readiness has increased from 89% to 96.4%, while dental wellness has increased from 22% to 62.4%. These are the highest percentages currently on record.

“Within US Army Medical Command, of which dental care is a part, readiness is our number one priority. The Go First Class program has changed the way Soldiers receive their dental care, reducing the amount of time away from the unit and increasing overall dental readiness for Soldiers across the Army,” said Maj. Gen. Thomas R. Tempel Jr., Dental Corps chief and commanding general of Regional Health Command-Central.

Go First Class made a singular change that had an immediate and positive impact. The program reduced the number of clinic visits required for comprehensive dental care. Traditionally, Soldiers made separate appointments for their exams, cleanings, and minor dental procedures. Under the Go First Class program, those are accomplished during one visit.

While Tempel acknowledged this is not a unique system, it is “the first step to approaching the delivery of readiness care from a patient centered perspective,” he said. “We are taking a more holistic approach and changing our practices to ensure we are monitoring and improving the health and wellness of the whole Soldier.”

Officially started in 2013, the initiative is based on three pillars: prevention, readiness, and wellness. Each of the pillars is integral to the Army Medicine campaign and helps transition oral care from a healthcare system to a system for health.

Within the pillar of prevention, Soldiers receive a comprehensive exam and other benefits such as their cleanings, oral hygiene guidance, tooth varnish, fluoride treatments, tobacco counseling, and oral cancer screenings. According to Tempel, these services improve a Soldier’s health and can reduce future care requirements.

Go First Class helps promote readiness by maintaining a Soldier’s deployable status. The single visit concept of the program ensures most Soldiers are available to deploy after a single visit, without being held up due to an oral health issue.

Soldiers fall into one of 4 dental categories that determines if they are deployable based on their dental health. Categories one and 2 are deployable worldwide and indicate a current examination or a current exam with minor, non-emergent care. If Soldiers are in category 3 or 4, however, they cannot deploy with their unit because they either do not have a current exam or they have a dental health issue that will need attention within 12 months. Those care concerns must be brought up to date before a patient can be returned to deployable status, which is the ultimate goal.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” said Tempel. “Over the last 5 years, there has been a 28% decrease in dental emergency appointments and a 33% decrease in specialized dental care required for serious cases, called palliative treatment. We’ve also seen a 67% decrease in Soldiers with emergent conditions, down from nearly 11,000 to just over 3,000. Overall treatment needs decreased by 62%, from 1.4 million to 527,000 across the board.”

The Department of Defense (DoD) dental readiness target is for 95% of active duty Soldiers to be dentally deployable. According to an August 2016 report, and thanks to Go First Class’ one-visit concept, the Army is exceeding the DoD target.

The third pillar, wellness, is the ultimate goal. Once Soldiers no longer need dental treatment beyond routine exams and cleanings, they are less likely to return to a non-deployable status. This also means they will be spending less time in the clinic and enjoying an enhanced quality of life. Today, 62% of permanent party Soldiers, those who are not in a training status, have no dental treatment needs.

“We remain committed to providing the best care when our Soldiers need it, as well as supporting readiness,” said Tempel. “The Go First Class program is a part of that commitment to increasing Soldiers’ access to care as well as minimizing time away from training and Soldiers’ day-to-day mission.”

Karla Gonzalez is the deputy director of communication for the U.S. Army Regional Health Command – Central. She has more than 20 years of public affairs experience, which includes nearly 10 years of active duty service as a photojournalist with the U.S. Army. Gonzalez is also a former dental assistant and dental office manager for family practices in Ohio, North Carolina, and Texas.

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