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Military Health System

Good oral care requires lifetime commitment

Image of Military health personnel, sitting in front of a group of children, showing them how to brush their teeth using a stuffed animal. Dentists from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the Navy Medicine Professional Development Center’s Naval Postgraduate Dental School at WRNMMC, visited the Child Development Center in February 2020 to observe of National Children’s Dental Health Month (Photo by: Bernard Little, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center).

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“The Primary Care Dentistry department has remained open for business during the COVID-19 pandemic, serving the urgent and emergent dental treatment needs of all DOD beneficiaries during normal business hours while prioritizing our in-person scheduled appointments on the readiness-related needs of the active duty population assigned to Naval Support Activity Bethesda and throughout the National Capital Region Market,” stated Navy Capt. (Dr.) Rasha Welch, director of Dental Services at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Good dental hygiene requires a lifetime commitment, and National Children's Dental Health Month, observed during February, highlights that dedication should begin before a child first picks up a toothbrush.

Oral health during pregnancy and infancy is especially important to set little ones up for a lifetime of good health," states the American Academy of Pediatrics. Expectant mothers should eat healthy, brush their teeth and visit their dentist. This advice is included in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "P-E-A-R-L-S of Wisdom" regarding dental health.

The CDC "P-E-A-R-L-S of Wisdom" are:

  • Protect tiny teeth by caring for your mouth when you're pregnant.
  • Ensure to wipe your baby's gums after each meal.
  • Avoid putting babies to bed with a bottle.
  • Remember to brush your child's teeth daily with fluoride toothpaste. For children younger than 2 years, consult with your dentist or doctor about when to start using fluoride toothpaste./p>
  • Limit drinks and food with added sugar for children. Encourage your child to eat more fruits and vegetables and fewer fruit drinks, cookies and candies.
  • Schedule your child's first dental visit by his or her 1st birthday or after their first tooth appears.

In addition, the CDC recommends including foods that are good sources of calcium in children's diets. These foods, including yogurt, broccoli and milk, help build strong teeth.

"Teaching your child about healthy eating habits is one of the best practices for a lifetime of good health," the CDC states.

  • Eat fruits and vegetables for snacks rather than candies and cookies.
  • Brush your child's teeth twice daily.
  • Serve water at mealtime rather than juice or soda.
  • Brush your child's teeth twice daily

People are also encouraged not to use products that can harm teeth, gums and other parts of the body, such as tobacco, which can cause oral cancer and other adverse conditions and diseases.

Despite changes brought on by COVID-19, people still need to visit their dentist on a regular basis for cleanings and exams for possible caries and other dental concerns. Caries, also known as cavities or tooth decay, are one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood and even in adults, but they are preventable with proper oral care.

Dental health can also impact the readiness of service members. The Department of Defense classifies service members in one of four categories based on their oral health:

  • Class 1 -- a current dental examination has been completed and no additional dental treatment is needed for 12 months
  • Class 2 -- a current dental examination has been completed, but the member requires non-urgent dental treatment or reevaluation.
  • Class 3 -- a current dental examination as well, but requires urgent or emergent dental treatment.
  • Class 4 -- indicates the member is overdue for an annual dental examination.

Classes 1 and 2 are groups that most service members should fall under, meaning that they are deployable and their oral health shouldn't cause any issues. DOD requires 95 percent dental readiness for all military personnel.

a young boy practices brushing teeth on a stuffed animal
In addition to conducting oral exams, dentists from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the Navy Medicine Professional Development Center’s Naval Postgraduate Dental School at WRNMMC offered the youth tips for a lifetime of healthy oral care, including eating right, brushing twice a day for at least two minutes, flossing and regularly visiting a dentist (Photo by: Bernard Little, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center).

The Primary Care Dentistry department has remained open for business during the COVID-19 pandemic, serving the urgent and emergent dental treatment needs of all DoD beneficiaries during normal business hours while prioritizing our in-person scheduled appointments on the readiness-related needs of the active duty population assigned to Naval Support Activity Bethesda and throughout the National Capital Region Market,” stated Navy Capt. (Dr.) Rasha Welch, director of Dental Services at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Welch added WRNMMC’s two specialty clinics, Oral Maxillofacial Surgery and Hospital Dentistry, have been providing 24/7 emergency care for inpatient and outpatient beneficiaries. “They have leveraged virtual academic capabilities for their residents while also actively engaged in supporting our readiness mission and maintaining the safety and wellness of our patients in active treatment,” she explained.

In response to COVID-19, Welch said all patients and staff members feeling ill should stay home and reschedule appointments.

In addition to the screening that occurs as everyone enters the facility, our dental staff will be administering written screening questionnaires and taking every patient’s temperature prior to any encounter,” Welch added.

Welch and Navy Cmdr. (Dr.) Jared Geller, WRNMMC’s Primary Care Department chief, explained they have modified work practices and the layout of clinical spaces, including the reception area, to allow for adequate social distancing. All visitors are required to wear cloth facemasks in the reception area and hand sanitizer is readily available.

Our staff is taking heightened personal protective equipment measures above and beyond our normally strict adherence to standard precautions,” Welch continued. “This includes the utilization of N95 respirators and face shields by all dental staff members during any aerosol-generating procedure. Finally, additional time are resources are being devoted to the proper cleaning and disinfection of all treatment areas between patients to mitigate any remote possibility of cross-contamination.

For more information about children's oral health, visit the CDC website.

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Last Updated: December 28, 2022
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