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Preventive Dental Care Now Reduces Major Work Later

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., March 20, 2001 – Taking young children to the dentist makes them better dental patients later in life -- reducing stress for both them and their dentist.

"Going to the dentist is not something people generally look forward to," Navy Capt. Lawrence McKinley said. "The earlier children can be exposed to the office atmosphere and to the equipment and procedures, the more comfortable children become. Dental visits become less frightening for them." McKinley is a dentist and the senior consultant for dentistry for the TRICARE Management Activity and DoD's Office of Health Affairs here.

Children of parents enrolled in the TRICARE Dental Program are automatically covered when they turn four, but parents can voluntarily enroll children at any age. During an American Forces Information Service interview, McKinley encouraged people to enroll their children as soon as they have teeth.

Coverage in the TRICARE Dental Program includes "established guidelines for preventive care for children and adolescents," he said. The program covers twice-yearly exams and cleanings for enrolled members.

Preventive care isn't just important for children either. Everyone enrolled in the program should use the benefit regularly, McKinley said.

"They're entitled to it; they're paying for it; they should use it," he said.

Military family members do use their dental benefits more than their civilian counterparts, McKinley said, but there's always room for improvement.

About 80 percent of people eligible are enrolled in the TRICARE Dental Program. Of that 80 percent, however, 57 percent see a dentist at least once a year, McKinley said. Only about half of the civilian population see a dentist in a given year, he added.

McKinley said DoD officials want to increase usage in the dental plan because they want to improve beneficiaries' quality of life. "If you can prevent more complicated and prolonged dental care down the road by using preventive care up front, it's to everybody's advantage," he said.

For more information on the TRICARE Dental Program, visit www.tricare.osd.mil.

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