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Army, Air Force dentists provide care for Honduran children

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs
  • Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs
Soldiers and Airmen began a two-week Medical Readiness Training Exercise Aug. 13, helping hundreds of Honduran children and providing much needed dental care at the Catholic University Dental School here.

Dentists and dental technicians from Fort Sill, Okla., and Forts Hood and Sam Houston, Texas, deployed here, and were augmented by medical personnel assigned to Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras.

"The main mission is to train," said Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Manuel Marien, a pediatric dentist assigned to Fort Hood who has performed this mission six times in the last six years. "Every year, we come with residents and bring them for the training."

The benefits of conducting the medical training in a foreign country helps the doctors and technicians learn how to work in austere environments.

"When it comes to improvising, everybody learns. It's like tailgate dentistry," said Colonel Marien. "For military doctors, they'll rarely see this. It's great training for them. If they're deployed to a remote area and they have to treat kids, now they'll know what to do."

The children were first given an educational class on the importance of brushing, flossing and good nutrition. From there, dental hygienists performed cleanings before the dentists began their work.

"There were lots of extractions, fillings (and) crowns," said Army Capt. (Dr.) Tom Stark, another pediatric dentist who is here from Fort Irwin, Calif. "It's a very high-risk population due to the lack of education, poor diet and lack of fluoride in the water," he said.

Because this was a first-time experience for Captain Stark, he said he wasn't sure what to expect. "It's been a totally eye-opening experience and some of the worst (cases) I've seen since I've been a dentist for the last five years," he said.

Air Force Maj. (Dr.) Kim Christian, a dentist deployed to Soto Cano from Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, said it was a very rewarding experience for her to be able to help the children who so desperately need dental care.

"We try to do as much as we can on each patient depending on their needs and what they can tolerate," she said. "But once the problem is gone, a lot of the pain they have is gone too."

In exchange for the use of the dental school's facilities, Colonel Marien provided teaching lectures to the dental students at the University during the exercise. He said because Honduras doesn't have pediatric dentistry as a specialty, most of the students were very curious about it.

Dr. Ramses Montes, dean of the dental school, said it's a win-win situation for everyone involved.

"As a dental school, we can't work on the children because a lot of them don't have the money to be seen (by a dentist)," he said. "But the students talk and communicate with the military doctors and get information from them, (even though) some of the procedures are a little advanced and a higher knowledge level."

Throughout the week, the team expects to see an estimated 200 to 300 during the two-week mission. Doctor Marien said last year they saw 286 patients and completed more than 1,800 procedures.