WASHINGTON — “You can’t fight if you can’t bite.” It might sound like some old, worn-out slogan. Actually, it dates back to the Revolutionary War when riflemen had to use their teeth to rip open packets of gunpowder when loading their muskets. If the rifleman’s teeth were damaged, missing or otherwise impaired, it would prevent him from being able to load and fire his musket properly.
Keeping in mind that physical fitness is but one component of total fitness, and that weight control, diet, nutrition and stress management are equally important.
During the first Gulf War roughly 35 to 40 percent of all National Guard and Reserve component soldiers, sailors and airman mobilized to the Gulf needed dental work before they could be ready to deploy outside the Continental United States.
The fact that DoD reports that dental emergencies account for 10 to 20 percent of the total casualties in a given operation led it to mandate that 95 percent of our armed forces personnel must be in a dental ready-to-deploy status.
Since dental readiness continues to be an important measure of mobilization readiness, the DoD and the Navy have taken steps to bolster overall readiness of the Armed Forces by employing leading edge technology and training for the 21st Century.
“I prefer the motto, ‘We put the bite in your fight,’” Rear Adm. Edward T. Reidy, deputy chief of the Navy Dental Corps, said. “The modern technology of the digital age and the training and skills our sailors possess have made our Navy swift, agile and lethal.”
“Our primary responsibility as reserve component Sailors is to be ready to answer the call to active duty,” he said. “The vast majority of dental disease is preventable through good home care and regular exams. Early detection and treatment is the key.”
Reidy encourages daily care, including periodic brushing and flossing. Examinations and cleanings at least once a year, or once every six months, are recommended.
But, having good oral hygiene and being ready means that all of your dental treatment needs are complete, not just those that could potentially cause emergency treatments, according to Reidy.
When sailors are forward deployed under challenging operational conditions, dental health can rapidly deteriorate and access to dental care may be limited. Reidy said good oral hygiene habits along with optimum dental health can help sailors stay focused, and stay in the fight, because emergency evacuation of a sailor could compromise mission effectiveness and safety.
To be considered ready to deploy sailors must be categorized as either class one (no dental treatment needed), or class two (minor dental treatment needed). Those in class three (urgent or emergency care needed) or class four (unknown dental condition or require a periodic dental examination), are not able to deploy outside the continental United States.
To ensure that Reservists are ready to deploy, there are 225 dental officers serving in a variety of billets. Each Operational Health Support Unit has about 10 dental officers the Fourth Dental Battalion supports the Marine Forces Reserve, and there is a Dental Officer assigned to each of the Navy’s twelve Reserve Naval Construction Battalions.
This includes 195 general or comprehensive dentists and another 30 specialists, oral surgeons, endodontists, periodontists and prosthodontists.
They provide the vast majority of dental exams during drill weekends. Additionally, the Annual Training policy of the Dental Corps provides periodic and predictable support to clinics at Parris Island, Great Lakes and Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.
“We continue to provide the best services available to our sailors we keep them ready, for mobilization, and for their overall dental health as well,” Cmdr. Carmen Blois of Navy Operational Support Center Bronx, N.Y., said.
Reservists can also see their civilian dentist for treatment and assessment and have their classification documented on DD Form 2813. After completion, the form should be added to the member’s dental records.
Reservists must continue to be just as ready as their active component counterparts. Since dental readiness continues to be an important measure of overall mobilization readiness, rapid and periodic treatment can prevent small and minor dental problems from becoming problems that require major or emergency treatment.