Categorized | Featured, Health

Dental deploys, serves Hawaii’s underserved

Major Simon Nguyen, a dentist with the 178th Medical Group, Ohio Air National Guard, uses an instructional puppet to teach young patients how to maintain good dental hygiene June 8 at Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site. The 178 MDG conducted a training deployment to provide free medical services to underserved communities that do not have access to healthcare on the Big Island. (Photo courtesy of Ohio Air National Guard)


Special to Hawaii 24/7 by Senior Airman Amy Adducchio

Dentists don’t typically make house calls, but this may be as close as they get. Equipped with two, fully-functional dental chairs, the West Hawaii Community Health Center’s Dental Mobile Van allows healthcare professionals to provide service to those who may not have access or the means to maintain good dental health.

The van’s most recent occupants were from the 178th Medical Group, Ohio Air National Guard. The 178 MDG’s medical and dental teams travel to various locations on the island during the two-week training deployment.

The West Hawaii Community Health Center established a preliminary patient schedule before the dental team arrived in Kona with the 178 MDG. Walk-in patients were worked into the schedule when possible.

“Most of the time, in certain areas, the patients just wait until there’s acute pain. Then at that time, they go to the emergency room or they see a physician or a dentist. The tooth either gets pulled or they go on antibiotics,” said Simon Nguyen, a dentist with the 178 MDG. “But what’s been nice, is that at some of the locations, we’re able to catch those beforehand. We’re doing a lot more fillings … we’re actually able to restore the teeth before they end up losing them.”

Nguyen, as well as Maj. (Dr.) Suzanne Maslo, the dental flight commander for the 911th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, Pittsburgh Air Reserve Station, and Maj. (Dr.) Wade Newman, a dentist with the 193rd Medical Group, Pennsylvania Air National Guard, served as the dental providers for the 178 MDG deployment.

These providers and 178 MDG dental hygienists are able to train in a deployment environment, as well as care for the medically served on the Big Island.

“Restorative procedures range from a simple, one-surface filling to a whole build up of the tooth. We figured out what the health center’s costs would be if they had to pay. They can range from just a filling itself at $80 to $400,” Nguyen said.

During the first four days, the dental unit saw more than 90 patients and performed approximately $23,800 in services according to the clinic fee schedule, which is less than what a private practice in the area would charge.

“Our folks get two weeks of full training. They’re busy,” Nguyen said. “There’s not one [patient] who has a problem with one tooth. It’s multiple teeth. It’s always multiple teeth.”

“I found [the dental team] to be very compassionate and willing to work with patients. It’s been a pleasure working with everyone in this type of environment. It’s a small van, it’s crowded, and everybody just seemed to work really well from my perspective,” said Petra Reinhardt, a worker from West Hawaii Community Health Center who has supported the dental van for the majority of the deployment.

Reinhardt and Nguyen found the patients are grateful for the team’s services.

“Everyone’s been waiting, and they’re very appreciative for anything that we do, whether it’s even just waiting for a cleaning, getting a check up, all the way to getting extractions. Even when they come in and they’re not [expecting] an extraction … they are appreciative and know that this is something that’s going to happen to keep them from having pain in the near future,” Nguyen said.

“One patient actually left a thank you card for the doctors and staff on the van. Another patient brought mangos and fruit for us,” Reinhardt said.

Since October 2009, the Dental Mobile Van typically operates two days each week at The Friendly Place and will continue you to after the unit’s departure.

The 178th Medical Group, Ohio Air National Guard, used the West Hawaii Community Health Center's Dental Mobile Van for a two-week training deployment June 7-17 in Kona. The 34-foot RV allows the unit's dental professionals to provide services to those who may not have access or the means to maintain good dental health. (Photo courtesy of Ohio Air National Guard)

2 Responses to “Dental deploys, serves Hawaii’s underserved”

  1. Gloria Brown says:

    Mahalo to the 178th Medical Group for “giving smiles” to our community. There are so many people who do not have jobs, let alone medical/dental insurance. This was such a blessing to all the people who were able to take advantage of this generous offer. I was one who went to the International Market Place to see if perhaps they could help my daughter with dental situation, and we were refered to the “Friendly Place”. Unfortunately, we could not find the location and gave up after an hour of driving around. Please continue the outstanding effort!

  2. Joseph Purpura says:

    I’m a disabled vet with no dental coverage and I need some serious dental work that I can’t afford. Can you do something for me. My income is way below the poverty level.

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