U.S. military personnel are providing medical and dental services to residents in Honduras during a two-week medical readiness training exercise that kicked off Aug. 13.
Doctors, dentists and dental technicians from multiple military installations throughout the United States are being augmented by medical personnel assigned to Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, for the exercise.
"The main mission is to train," said Army Lt. Col. Manuel Marien, a pediatric dentist assigned to Fort Hood, Texas, who has performed this mission each of the past six years. "Every year, we come with residents and bring them for the training."
The benefits of conducting the medical training in a foreign country helps the doctors and technicians learn how to work in austere environments. Dentists and technicians are providing dental care to hundreds of Honduran children at the Catholic University Dental School in Tegucicalpa.
"When it comes to improvising, everybody learns. It's like tailgate dentistry," Lt. Col. Marien said. "For military doctors, they'll rarely see this. It's great training for them. If they're deployed to a remote area and they have to treat kids, now they'll know what to do."
The children first were given an educational class on the importance of brushing, flossing and good nutrition. From there, dental hygienists performed cleanings before the dentists began their work.
"There were lots of extractions, fillings and crowns," said Army Capt. Tom Stark, a pediatric dentist from Fort Irwin, Calif. "It's a very high-risk population due to the lack of education, poor diet and lack of fluoride in the water."
Because this was a first-time experience for him, Capt. Stark said he wasn't sure what to expect. "It's been a totally eye-opening experience, and some of the worst cases I've seen since I've been a dentist for the last five years."
Air Force Maj. Kim Christian, a dentist deployed to Soto Cano from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, said it was a very rewarding experience to be able to help the children who so desperately need dental care.
"We try to do as much as we can on each patient, depending on their needs and what they can tolerate," she said. "But once the problem is gone, a lot of the pain they have is gone too."
In exchange for the use of the dental school's facilities, Lt. Col. Marien provided teaching lectures to the dental students at the university during the exercise. Because Honduras doesn't have pediatric dentistry as a specialty, most of the students were very curious about it.
Dr. Ramses Montes, dean of the dental school, said it's a win-win situation for everyone involved.
"As a dental school, we can't work on the children because a lot of them don't have the money to be seen (by a dentist)," he said. "But the students talk and communicate with the military doctors and get information from them, (even though) some of the procedures are a little advanced and a higher knowledge level."
The team expects to see 200 to 300 patients during the two-week mission. Lt. Col. Marien said last year they saw 286 patients and completed more than 1,800 procedures during the exercise.