Oral Health and our Active Duty Service Members
November 11 is Veterans Day, and at DentaQuest, we’re committed to supporting and honoring our nation’s veterans and active duty service members (ADSMs). This month, we spoke with Dr. Michael Jacques, manager of clinical management at DentaQuest and a current Navy reservist, as well as our partners at Solvere Health, a company that provides mobile oral health treatment to service members, to learn more about the role oral health has in the life of an active or retired military member.
The links between oral health and overall health — between the mouth and the body — are clear. For military members, that connection is especially vital. Having good oral health is essential to their career and their safety. As such, before being deployed or considered fit for mobilization, active duty service members must pass a health examination — with dental as a core component. These pre-mobilization exams determine if there are any underlying health issues that need to be addressed prior to deployment.
“The U.S. Military will not send anyone to mobilize if they cannot pass their pre-mobilization exams,” says Dr. Jacques. “For example, if a service member has a cavity close to the nerve, they are considered non-deployable because that cavity could turn into a root canal or worse.”
Dr. Jacques, who has served in the U.S. Navy Reserves for nine years as a general dentist, oversees these exams monthly, making sure that his fellow Navy Reservists are fit for deployment. With his past experience serving overseas in the U.S. Army, he knows how important it is to have a clean bill of oral health. During his time in the U.S. Army, Dr. Jacques learned how to do extractions that he would never attempt back home. For us, treating cavities or getting an extraction is simple, but for ADSMs, needing immediate dental treatment can cause a host of problems.
“When you have a painful and immediate dental issue, the access to care while in Afghanistan or Iraq is not the same as it is at home. If a service member’s cavity turned into a root canal or they needed their wisdom teeth removed, they would have to be medevaced out of the country to be seen by the closest oral surgeon,” says Dr. Jacques. “Essentially, that service member becomes a casualty, and the entire unit can be put in danger as a result, as will the service member being mobilized for treatment (i.e. convoying to a battle zone for this dental service).”
With so much at risk, it’s essential that service members are deployment ready, but it’s not always easy to access the proper care needed to pass the pre-mobilization exam. That’s where Solvere Health comes in. With the support of DentaQuest, Solvere Health provides affordable, convenient full-service dental care via mobile units across New York and Ohio.
One of the key programs the organization supports is the Reserve Health Readiness program. For the first eight to nine years of the program, it did not include a dental treatment option. But, once the team added dental treatment into the initiative, the readiness status of reservists they saw increased from 50% to 90% according to Executive Director Ed Lorch.
Getting service members deployment ready is extremely important, and ADSMs receive world-class dental care, but what happens when service members return home, resign or retire? Once they return home, dentists or organizations — like Solvere — conduct post-deployment exams to ensure their oral health is up to standard. After service members retire, they have one year to have their dental care taken care of at a Veteran Affairs hospital, but access to care can be difficult to come by.
“Sometimes a local VA hospital is so busy that veterans are unable to get an appointment within their year mark,” Dr. Jacques explains. “VA hospitals are also more prominent in specific cities — if you don’t live near one, getting the help you need can be extremely difficult.”
Solvere’s mobility allows them to bring oral care into rural and other communities that may have higher barriers to accessing care.
“Many of the veterans we see hadn’t seen a dentist in years and were in chronic pain,” says Lorch. “They are so appreciative of being able to get this treatment, not only for alleviating the pain, but making them feel more confident going out into the workforce. DentaQuest’s support is a very important reason why we feel so confident in this work and have been able to continue to expand and reach more people.”
Helping veterans get the care they need is something Dr. Jacques is also passionate about. To do so, he volunteers at a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in Round Rock, Texas, a few hours a week. There, in the FQHC, he has the opportunity to connect with local veterans and support their dental needs.
“When my patients learn that I am a veteran and vice versa, it’s like meeting a family member. I’m able to gain their trust right away and help take care of oral health issues for no cost. They are very thankful for the work I do, but I’m happy that I have the opportunity to make a difference in their lives.”