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Something to Smile About!

June 19, 2010

The following article was written by Senior Airman Amy Adducchio, Ohio National Guard.

Major Simon Nguyen, a dentist with the 178th Medical Group, Ohio Air National Guard, uses an instructional puppet to teach young patients how to maintain good dental hygiene June 8 at Pu`ukohola Heiau National Historic Site. The 178 MDG conducted a training deployment to provide free medical services to underserved communities that do not have access to healthcare on the Big Island. (Photo courtesy of Ohio Air National Guard)

Dentists don’t typically make house calls, but this may be as close as they get. Equipped with two, fully-functional dental chairs, the West Hawaii Community Health Center’s Dental Mobile Van allows healthcare professionals to provide service to those who may not have access or the means to maintain good dental health.

The van’s most recent occupants were from the 178th Medical Group, Ohio Air National Guard. The 178 MDG’s medical and dental teams travel to various locations on the island during the two-week training deployment.

The West Hawaii Community Health Center established a preliminary patient schedule before the dental team arrived in Kona with the 178 MDG. Walk-in patients were worked into the schedule when possible.

“Most of the time, in certain areas, the patients just wait until there’s acute pain. Then at that time, they go to the emergency room or they see a physician or a dentist. The tooth either gets pulled or they go on antibiotics,” said Simon Nguyen, a dentist with the 178 MDG. “But what’s been nice, is that at some of the locations, we’re able to catch those beforehand. We’re doing a lot more fillings … we’re actually able to restore the teeth before they end up losing them.”

Nguyen, as well as Maj. (Dr.) Suzanne Maslo, the dental flight commander for the 911th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, Pittsburgh Air Reserve Station, and Maj. (Dr.) Wade Newman, a dentist with the 193rd Medical Group, Pennsylvania Air National Guard, served as the dental providers for the 178 MDG deployment.

These providers and 178 MDG dental hygienists are able to train in a deployment environment, as well as care for the medically served on the Big Island.

“Restorative procedures range from a simple, one-surface filling to a whole build up of the tooth. We figured out what the health center’s costs would be if they had to pay. They can range from just a filling itself at $80 to $400,” Nguyen said.

During the first four days, the dental unit saw more than 90 patients and performed approximately $23,800 in services according to the clinic fee schedule, which is less than what a private practice in the area would charge.

“Our folks get two weeks of full training. They’re busy,” Nguyen said. “There’s not one [patient] who has a problem with one tooth. It’s multiple teeth. It’s always multiple teeth.”

“I found [the dental team] to be very compassionate and willing to work with patients. It’s been a pleasure working with everyone in this type of environment. It’s a small van, it’s crowded, and everybody just seemed to work really well from my perspective,” said Petra Reinhardt, a worker from West Hawaii Community Health Center who has supported the dental van for the majority of the deployment.

Reinhardt and Nguyen found the patients are grateful for the team’s services.

Staff Sgt. Bill McConaha, an optometry technician with the 178th Medical Group of the Ohio Air National Guard performs an eye screening to test near vision on a patient at Pu`ukohola Heiau National Historic Site in Kona, Hawaii June 8, 2010. The 178 MDG is on a two-week medical training deployment, which provides free medical services to underserved Kona communities. (Photo by Senior Airman Amy Adducchio, Ohio National Guard)

“Everyone’s been waiting, and they’re very appreciative for anything that we do, whether it’s even just waiting for a cleaning, getting a check up, all the way to getting extractions. Even when they come in and they’re not [expecting] an extraction … they are appreciative and know that this is something that’s going to happen to keep them from having pain in the near future,” Nguyen said.

“One patient actually left a thank you card for the doctors and staff on the van. Another patient brought mangos and fruit for us,” Reinhardt said.

Since October 2009, the Dental Mobile Van typically operates two days each week at The Friendly Place and will continue you to after the unit’s departure.

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