Story and photo by Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Smith
In the months leading up to a deployment, Soldiers tend to be focused on training in preparation for accomplishing their mission overseas and staying in the fight.
One thing that can be easily overlooked is the dental aspect of a Soldier’s readiness to deploy.
A Soldier’s dental problems during a deployment can have adverse effects on his ability to perform his duties.
“The wisdom teeth, for instance … can become a serious issue,” said Capt. Matthew Thompson, a dentist from Dental Activity. “(With) the pain, you can’t focus on the mission at hand; you’re focusing more on your tooth aching. Anywhere from a week … all the way up to months out, they can be living with that pain.”
When some Soldiers deploy, they make changes to an array of different things in their lives that can cause dental issues down the road.
“What we see when Soldiers deploy is that their sugar intake goes up because they start drinking more energy drinks and sodas to get that extra jolt in the morning,” Thompson said. “Soldiers also tend to eat more than the usual three courses throughout the day, which allows more frequent chances for bacteria to develop and have more cavities.”
Nicotine use can also increase while Soldiers are overseas and lead to problems arising in the mouth.
“A lot of Soldiers need that nicotine for their missions, they need nicotine to wake up,” Thompson said. “Coming back alive and healthy is the number one goal, so if Soldiers need that nicotine, it’s there for them, but they have to understand that it has repercussions in their mouth.”
Long workdays and location can also play a role in how well Soldiers care for their teeth while deployed.
“I don’t floss, I’m not going to lie,” said Spc. James Johnson, 183rd Maintenance Company, 68th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 43rd Sustainment Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, who was previously deployed to Camp Liberty in Baghdad. “I just brush my teeth. A lot of the time … I was working 12-hour days. So when I wasn’t working, I preferred to sleep.”
While these are only some of the factors that play into a Soldier’s dental health, proper dental hygiene and prevention measures can counteract the negative effects and lead to a Soldier’s readiness staying topnotch.
“The way Soldiers can take care of their teeth throughout a deployment is by first focusing on their oral hygiene needs before the deployment and building good habits,” Thompson said. “When (Soldiers) are deployed, and the chances of seeing a dentist are low to none, they are their own dentist.”
Some easy ways to help combat bacteria in the mouth is to swish your mouth with water after every meal, sugary drink or nicotine use, Thompson said, and even chewing sugar-free gum for 10 minutes after every meal can help keep your mouth clean. Also, brushing for at least two minutes before you go to bed and when you wake up will help to keep your mouth bacteria free.
“Hygiene is easily the most important piece of anything,” Thompson said, “because (bad) hygiene feeds into fillings, which can feed into root canals and eventually that tooth may be extracted. If you’re not doing that preventive piece you’re going to have issues. It’s just a matter of time.”
For more information about caring for your dental needs and prevention tips visit http://www.ada.org or http://www.knowyourteeth.com.