Dental health of Soldiers improves dramatically

For the past several decades, only about 20 percent of Soldiers were classified as “class 1 dental wellness.” In the dental community, that means those Soldiers were up to date on cleanings and required no dental work.

That number has since risen to around 40 percent and is climbing, said Col. Thomas R. Tempel Jr., the commander of U.S. Army Dental Command. The improvement is due to the Army-wide “Go First Class” program that began last month.

Traditionally, Soldiers would go for a routine exam. After the exam, they’d get another appointment for a cleaning and another for other work such as getting a filling.

It took a lot of appointments and time spent in the waiting room. The back and forth to appointments was so bad that only about half of the Soldiers who were told to return for dental work ever did so. “We were not taking care of our Soldiers,” he said.

With “Go First Class,” Soldiers who come in for an exam also get a cleaning and often get a cavity filled all in one visit, Tempel said.

The program saves about 1.25 million hours of time per year, equating to $31 million in E-4 pay and benefits, he said. The time and cost factors were computed by estimating the time spent in waiting rooms.

Those savings could improve even more in the future, he said, because the one-stop preventative care received will result in fewer larger problems down the road — cavities, root canals and so on.

“Soldiers who achieve Class 1 are five times less likely to experience a dental emergency than someone who is Class 3,” and needs work done, he said. “That’s good for readiness, especially units deployed.”


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