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Multi-Service Teams Provide Dental Care Aboard USNS Comfort

By Petty Officer 2nd Class Joan E. Kretschmer, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service

ACAJUTLA, El Salvador, July 30, 2007 – Servicemembers from different branches of the U.S. military and Canadian forces have united to provide dentistry services aboard hospital ship USNS Comfort.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Gene Demers, an operations specialist attached to the hospital ship USNS Comfort, hands out teddy bears to children at Unidad de Salud Health Center in Acajutla, El Salvador, July 28, 2007. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Elizabeth Allen

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The ship arrived in El Salvador on July 25 during a four-month humanitarian deployment to Latin America and the Caribbean after caring for patients in Belize, Guatemala, Panama and Nicaragua.

As in other sites and countries, the dental specialists are working on routine dentistry such as extractions, cleanings and fillings. They also educate children as a preventive measure of future dental problems.

“My job here is to assist the doctors and work the patient flow outside,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Faith Elmore. “Our job here is important, some (the countries’ citizens) don’t have the ability to receive dental care, and we are able to come here with the professionals and take care of them.”

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Sarah Boyll, also assigned to Comfort, is working at Unidad de Salud Health Center in Acajutla, assisting the Dental Department by applying fluoride to patients’ teeth and helping them learn how to take care of their teeth properly.

“Fluoride treatments are very important for the population; it definitely helps prevents cavities,” Boyll said. “So it is something we want to make sure everyone receives.”

The dental teams provide preventive measures against cavities that can last up to 10 to 12 years, said Navy Capt. Joseph Rusz, the head of Comfort’s Dental Department. They strive to do a lot of dental work, but more importantly, they devote strong effort toward a footprint of care for patients to follow.

Along with the humanitarian aspect of Comfort’s mission, it is a unique deployment because of the diversity of participating organizations.

“This is my first time having multiple services working together here, it’s very exciting,” Rusz said.

Rusz’s department is typical of other multi-service departments on the ship, with members from the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Air National Guard and Canadian forces.

“We find it very exciting working together, if anything it has increased the motivation of the people,” Rusz said. “We want to make this work and we find everything to be very successful. I hope this may be a model for future deployments.”

For Boyll, her excitement for this mission is equally matched by the reward she found when teaching children how to clean their teeth and the importance of oral hygiene.

“It will have such an impact on their lives,” Boyll said. “I don’t think that a lot of them have been taught that skill.”

The dental team is very excited to aid the countries, Rusz said.

“We are very happy to be here, and from what we can tell they are happy to have us here.”

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