Army dental program aims to improve soldier hygiene

Fort Gordon is leading the Army in testing a pilot program designed to improve soldier dental care and reduce sick leave, officials said Wednesday.

The initiative is known as the Go First Class program, an effort the Army started in early 2013 at Fort Gordon and Fort Bliss, Texas to streamline all oral-care procedures – including exams, cleanings, tooth varnishing, and simple fillings – into a single appointment for soldiers.

After a successful trial run at the two posts, the Army’s Dental Command is phasing in the new system at each of its 130 clinics, with the intent to complete the transition by Oct. 1, said Col. Bryan Kalish, the command’s director of health care delivery.

Every soldier is required to get an annual dental exam but only encouraged to get their teeth cleaned and have cavities filled.

“The problem with that is everything else takes a back seat to getting an exam,” Kalish said.

In the past, Kalish
said, soldiers would come in for an oral exam but would not return to the dentists for cleanings or fillings because they couldn’t fit two to three visits into their busy schedules.

Now, Kalish said services have been bundled, with more Army dentists on standby to do cleanings and fillings.

“We determined that if we changed from being exam-centric to hygiene-centric, we could kill two birds with one stone,” Kalish said.

So far, test records show a significant decrease in the number of soldiers who are “dentally non-deployable” and an increase in the number of soldiers who have no dental treatment needs, according to a news release.

“The feedback I’m getting from commanders and soldiers is very positive,” Col. Ken Dunn, the director of health care support for the Army’s Dental Command said in a statement. “With (the new program) most soldiers only need to visit the dentist once a year. They are away from their units much less.”

As oral health improves, Kalish expects sick days to decrease and his command predicts up to 1.25 million hours of time will be returned to unit commanders Army-wide as a result of the initiative.

“Because of this program, you can treat at the time of diagnosis,” Kalish said. “And if all of our 130-plus clinics around the world do their due diligence and really study their populations, we figure we can get approximately 50 percent of our soldiers to walk out that day and not have to come back until next year.”

Kalish said Fort Gordon was chosen as a test site because it trains many soldiers who are new to the Army.

“Go First Class addresses several pillars of the Army Medicine 2020 campaign plan, including prevention, wellness, and readiness,” Kalish said. “It helps us transform from a health care system, to a system of health.”

Kalish said the initiative has been in the works for almost three years, after Army analysts discovered in reviewing 10 years of medical data that its dental command had become “exam-centric” and not enough soldiers were getting their teeth cleaned or taking advantage of prevention measures taught during such sessions.

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