Creating Smiles in the Wild

Article excerpt

TANANA, Alaska - Two hours north of Fairbanks via Blackhawk helicopter, sits a remote village far removed from major roads, airports, and basic medical and dental care.

The 230 residents of Tanana, though far off the beaten path, are not forgotten, nor will they ever be forgotten by the members of the specialized dentistry team who volunteered their time and skills in support of Arctic Care 2011.

Arctic Care is a recurring medical readiness and logistics training exercise that delivers real-world medical, dental and veterinary care to underserved communities in remote, difficult-toreach parts of Aaska. As an innovative training program, it falls under the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs and is one of several civil-military programs referred to as Innovative Readiness Training.

This year the Army Reserve and the 807th Medical Deployment Support Command from Fort Douglas, Utah, had the responsibility to lead the largest medical reserve joint operation training exercise. More than 250 Soldiers, Armen, Sailors and government health care professionals deployed from across the country to participate in Operation Arctic Care, 2011.

The mission in Tanana was to provide medical and dental care to the native Aaskans. The operation ran from April 14-30.

"It is unique that we are working with the Army, but together we can provide more health care service," said Commander Lee Minh, a dentist with the U.S. Public Health Service. "We are also meeting a lot of new people and that makes it more interesting," he said.

Other medical, dental and veterinary teams are deployed to other small villages throughout northern Aaska. Each has the same mission: provide quality health care to those in need. In addition, the teams conduct basic health education for village residents.

"Arctic Care is a mission that requires a lot of cooperation, involvement and planning to make it work," Minh said. "I like the dynamics that make an operation like this work. It creates the challenges I like to overcome and it develops a communication link between the other services."

Working in a remote location with extreme temperatures, the dentistry team faced challenges even Minh might find difficult to overcome. With few resources and limited electricity to run all the equipment, it was not easy to perform even the basic dental procedures. And if the equipment broke down, flying a biomedical technician out to repair it presented a logistical challenge in itself.

Still, Minh remained confident that the two Army Reserve dentists and three dental assistants would see all their patients before departing at month's end.

"Our goal is to treat all the kids here and to provide emergency treatment and dental care for the adults," said Minh.

By the second day of the operation, the dental team had already signed up 125 villagers for service. With a complete dentistry setup, the team was able to perform tooth extractions, begin root canals, fix cavities, fit crowns and give X-ray examinations.

Minh was not the only one who found this mission unique. Dental professionals were brought in from as far away as Texas and Ohio, each with a desire to serve the people of Tanana. …