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Coalition Support Hospital Arms Bagram 'To the Teeth'

By Sgt. Johnny A. Thompson, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGRAM, Afghanistan, Oct. 17, 2003 – Teeth are the fastest-aging part of the human body, and to help keep coalition forces here aging gracefully, the 452nd Combat Support Hospital's dental unit provides essential dental care for service members in need of immediate attention to their choppers.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Col. (Dr.) James Hove, general dentist of the 452nd Coalition Support Hospital, works on a patient who has come to the dental clinic complaining of a toothache. Army photo by Sgt. Johnny A. Thompson

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

Staffed with a general dentist and two dental assists, the dental clinic's mission is to keep troops orally fit to fight.

"We provide emergency dental care for the 11,000 coalition troops here," said Col. (Dr.) James Hove, dentist of the 452nd CSH. "Our role is to make (service members) healthy enough to do their job."

The dental clinic helps troops who need root canal therapy, have severely broken or decayed teeth, or have suffered facial trauma involving their jaw or teeth.

"Because we're a small staff, we don't provide an array of services," said Hove. "Prior to coming to Afghanistan, service members should have received a dental screening from their home station (dental clinic) and had major problems corrected, so we should only deal with dental problems that have happened while the service member has been deployed or treat emergency problems."

While the clinic doesn't provide care for loose fillings, small breaks in a tooth, routine teeth cleaning or other minor dental concerns, Hove noted the clinic doesn't necessarily leave small dental problem unattended.

"The clinic is designed for emergency care in a combat environment," said Hove. Though the clinic doesn't treat small cases that can wait until the deployed service member goes back to a larger facility, Hove said, the clinic staff will do what's necessary to give temporary relief to that service member in Afghanistan Though the clinic isn't equipped with all of the fixtures of a comprehensive dental clinic, it has the necessary tools it needs to get to the root of a service member's problem.

"I brought two of my soldiers to the clinic after they complained of mouth pain," said 1st Lt. Sungbeom Chung, physician at the Korean military hospital, "and after seeing (the dentist), the soldiers said they didn't have any more tooth pains and they were happy with the dental service."

Chung added that the clinic took X-rays of the Korean soldiers' teeth and gave them a general understanding of the cause of the mouth pain and the procedure that would remedy the problem.

"Our defining requirement for treatment is pain," said Hove. "If a (service member) is in pain, then he'll be treated, no matter if the problem is minor or major."

Though the dental clinic averages only about 20 patients a day, Hove noted that having a dental clinic available when a service member needs it is as essential to the coalition forces' mission here as the weapons and ammunition service members are issued in protecting Afghanistan from terrorists.

"For the lucky person who has never needed a dentist, our job may seems meaningless," said Hove. "But (to) a person who is in pain or has had oral pain in the past, we are a welcomed friend. And there's nothing better than a friend when you're hurting. We are the background support that helps keep service members fighting."

(Army Sgt. Johnny A. Thompson is assigned to the 4th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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