September 26, 2019 — U.S. service members need to stay fit and ready for the fight at any time and at any place, and a big part of that is keeping all parts of the body healthy. That includes oral health.
Beneficiaries of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) have numerous services that they can use to ensure their oral health and remain ready for deployment. The Directorate of Dental Services at WRNMMC is responsible for the dental care and health readiness for primarily active-duty patients at WRNMMC and the surrounding areas.
Navy CDR. Rasha Welch, DC, Dental Services director, and members of her team, including Army Lt. Col. Heather Olmo, DDS, of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, and Navy Lt. CDR. Jason Burkes, MD, of Oral/Head and Neck Oncologic and Microvascular Reconstructive Surgery, explained that if not appropriately treated, oral diseases can result in dental emergencies, be a source of severe pain, and significantly impair the patient’s ability to perform their daily tasks.
“Problems can arise when a dental emergency occurs when service members are deployed where access to dental services is limited.”
Oral disease left untreated can also be “of significant morbidity to the patient,” they added.
While most dental emergencies can be easily treated when the patient is in a non deployed setting, problems can arise when a dental emergency occurs when service members are deployed where access to dental services is limited, Burkes furthered. Such emergencies can lead to medical evacuation from theater for treatment, he added.
“Good oral health helps to protect the body by warding off and in most instances, decreasing some of the effects of systemic diseases,” Olmo furthered.
Addressing the impact of poor oral health on readiness, the dental expert agreed that service members who fail to exercise good oral hygiene and develop oral disease risk becoming unfit for duty, which can impact unit readiness. They stated that while services are available to help beneficiaries maintain their dental health, it’s ultimately service members’ responsibility to practice good oral hygiene and stay current on any appointments.