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Air Force Dental Technicians to Train as Hygienists

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Updated January 26, 2004
by Airman 1st Class Amy Perry

CHARLESTON AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- The Air Force has teamed up with Trident Technical College in Charleston to send dental technicians to an Air Force-sponsored dental hygiene training scholarship program.

Tech. Sgt. Alycia Miller from Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, and Staff Sgt. Noreena Svoboda from McChord AFB, Wash., are the first airmen to take part in the American Dental Association-accredited program at TTC. They will earn associate degrees at the end of the 14-month course.

Air Force officials plan to send four to five dental technicians a year to TTC. Six other airmen are in a program at St. Petersburg College, Fla., this cycle.

Charleston AFB is hosting the two sergeants to ensure there is military oversight and support, said Master Sgt. Tony Mikell, 437th Aeromedical Dental Squadron Dental Flight noncommissioned officer in charge.

"Dental technicians will be able to provide a level of care for our military beneficiaries equal to that of civilian dental facilities," Sergeant Mikell said. "Providing this level of care normally given by dentists will allow extra time for the dentists to provide other comprehensive dental treatment."

The program is an important step in furthering the dental technicians education.

"This is a professional milestone for our enlisted members and a long-overdue capability for the dental service," said Chief Master Sgt. Terry Harford, Office of the Surgeon General dental policy and operations superintendent. "Getting to this point and being accepted at a top dental hygiene training institution is indicative of the caliber of our enlisted force."

Attendees were selected through a competitive board process, and are considered some of the very best dental technicians in the Air Force, Chief Harford said.

Sergeant Miller said being a dental hygienist would help her at her clinic.

"The main reason I wanted to do this program is because although I already went to the advanced cleaning program, there were too many limitations, such as numbing a patient for the procedure," Sergeant Miller said. "I love what I do for the Air Force, I just want to do it without so many limitations."

The program curriculum includes both general education and professional dental hygiene courses. People are trained as primary health-care professionals, oral health educators and clinicians who, as co-therapists with the dentists, provide preventative, educational and therapeutic services supporting total heath for control of oral disease and the promotion of oral health.

Graduates of the program are eligible to take the Dental Hygiene National Board Exam and regional and individual state board examinations for licensure.

"Upon graduation and successful completion of the national exam, members will be assigned to various Air Force locations based on Air Force and patient population needs," Chief Harford said. "Having military dental hygienists in our inventory will be a force multiplier in terms of enhanced patient care and improved worldwide readiness."

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