War on Terrorism

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mobile Unit Treats Remote Soldiers' Dental Woes

By Army Spc. Josh LeCappelain
Special to American Forces Press Service

Jan. 26, 2009 - A pulsing cavity, throbbing with pain, can cause most people to experience an overwhelming feeling of frustration and irritation. To compound matters, imagine being stuck at a tiny base in Iraq, cut off from dentistry support, and having to wake up day after day in constant pain.

Luckily, for those individuals in dire need of dental attention, help is on its way.

Following up on an idea created by the 10th Mountain Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team and inherited by the 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team, officials at the Multinational Division Center surgeon's office have retrofitted a military-leased shipping container, or "milvan," into a transportable, easily adaptable dental clinic known as "Dentist in a Van."

"Dental care is more important than people think," Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) David Wallace, division surgeon, said. "The challenge of treating people, getting them back to larger forward operating bases for simple procedures, helped necessitate this."

The van will reach servicemembers in the remotest areas of Iraq. The plan is to supply one van to the 4th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team's area of operations and a second to the 172nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team area.

Each brigade combat team has one assigned dentist. Previously, soldiers required transportation from their base to the dentist's location, lengthening the amount of time they would be in oral agony. With the mobile van system, the dentist can come to their location, or at least a nearby base.

"It's easier than sending a person to a [forward operating base], which can waste a few days," Army Capt. Gail Raymond, division medical logistics officer, said. "We can take the dentist to them and spend only a few hours."

The Dentist in a Van has been tweaked since its initial use, with different flooring and walls to ensure quicker, more hygienic cleanup. The containers also contain their own generators, making them self-sufficient.

"They are much more hygiene-centered," Raymond said. "They are easy to wipe down and sterilize, with linoleum floors. With a single sheet or two and one seam, there aren't a lot of cracks on the floor that are difficult to clean."

"It's extremely easy to transport," she continued. "You throw it on the back of a truck bed and take it wherever you need it to go.

A similar system conceivably could be used in the future to rotate physical therapy equipment through areas of operation, officials said.

(Army Spc. Josh LeCappelain serves in the Multinational Division Center public affairs office.)

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