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New Horizons dental team brings smiles to Belize

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Tony Tolley
  • New Horizons Belize Public Affairs
U.S. and Canadian military medical personnel partnered to provide comprehensive dental services at the Punta Gorda Hospital annex here during a dental readiness training exercise scheduled from April 22 through May 2.

The 11-day medical mission, part of an ongoing exercise called New Horizons, provides dental services consisting of oral hygiene education, teeth cleanings, fillings, root canals and extractions. The team also has the capability to provide partial dentures, known as teeth restorations.

Senior Airman William Cochran, dental laboratory technician from Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., found job satisfaction during his first deployment despite the increased responsibilities.

"Even though the workload is crazy fast and working at two and a half times what I would be working at back home, I am loving it," said Cochran. "People come to the clinic with no teeth and I am able to give them their life back essentially. I help give them a brand new smile."

The dental team, made up of 34 U.S. Air Force personnel from Offutt and Keesler Air Force Bases and two Canadian Army Forces personnel from Canadian Forces Bases Shilo in Manitoba and Petawawa in Ontario, worked together to provide patient care.
Canadian Army Sgt. Line Plante, dental technician from Canadian Forces Base Shilo, Manitoba, felt she was able to contribute to the mission in an area she was most familiar.

"When we first got here, it was a little unclear what our role in the mission was," Plante said. "I am most comfortable in the dental surgery area, so I was able to jump right in and assist the resident doctors with the tools they need to accomplish their job."
One of the main challenges the team overcame was an insufficient power supply for their dental equipment.

"The planning for this mission has changed due to the challenges of the power situation," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Richard Buck, officer in charge of the dental mission. "The facility where we are working doesn't have the electrical capacity to handle all the dental units. We have had to use extension cords and work off other circuits to run all the dental units."

He went on to add, "The heat in Belize creates problems for the machines, so in the afternoon we turn them off to cool, but while they cool, those chairs can be turned into cleaning stations."
Besides the challenges of power requirements, the dental team also faced the challenge of an increased volume of patients.
At their home station, a resident dentist may see only four patients a day, said Senior Airman Ashley Corcoran, dental technician from Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.

"Seeing a lot of patients has made the dentists vary their workload," said Corcoran. "They are doing an awesome job."
Another mission the dental team conducted was educating children on oral hygiene at the local schools. Information was passed to 388 students on the importance of brushing and flossing as part of their daily schedule.

"It is important to reach a younger population and children on how to take better care of their teeth at a younger age," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Iris Ortiz Gonzalez, periodontist from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.

To date, the DENTRETE team provided services to 1074 patients. On average, they see 130 patients each day, in which approximately 35 patients receive cleanings, 35 receive fillings, and 60 patients have teeth extracted.

New Horizons is an annual training exercise that U.S. Southern Command conducts with a partner nation. The exercise began April 1 and is scheduled to run until June 30. Personnel are also currently building four classroom facilities at existing schools, and providing medical care and surgeries as part of the training.