Ellsworth welcomes new dental hygienist

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Alessandra N. Hurley
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
After approximately one year of requests for advanced dental hygiene support for Ellsworth's active duty servicemembers, Master Sgt. Anthony Rhodes, 28th Medical Operations Squadron NCO in charge, was proud to add a dental hygienist to the base dental operations team.

Staff Sgt. Kristen Pool, 28th MDOS dental hygienist, is one of only 52 dental hygienists in the entire Air Force. As a result, dental hygienists, such as Sergeant Pool, are in very high demand and not all bases have them.

"To my knowledge, since we restructured from a full hospital to a servicing medical clinic, this is the first time Ellsworth has ever had a dental hygienist on staff," said Sergeant Rhodes.

Prior to her arrival, servicemembers with special dental needs were given referrals to be treated at off-base facilities. Sergeant Rhodes says he feels very fortunate that Sergeant Pool has arrived at Ellsworth.

"While an Air Force dental technician who has accomplished the Air Force Oral Hygiene Course can conduct routine cleanings for our active duty personnel, hygienists are specialists in the oral hygiene field," said Sergeant Rhodes. "They are specially trained providers, nationally certified, and are not only able to provide routine care; they can administer in-depth advanced oral care to Air Force personnel with major or complex dental concerns. Having a dental hygienist allows Air Force dental clinics more flexibility in terms of specialty care. Not to mention, they bring a vast amount of knowledge and resources to the clinic. Having this local expertise equips dental leadership with a 'resident expert' who can provide technicians with an opportunity to gain advanced knowledge and skill."

Some of Sergeant Pool's basic duties include deep cleanings for patients with special dental issues, such as those who have been diagnosed with periodontal disease.

Unlike dental technicians who are trained only to assist doctors with cleanings above and slightly below the gum line, Sergeant Pool is fully licensed with a degree in dental hygiene from St. Petersburg College, Fla. to treat periodontal or gum disease which causes pocketing deep below the gum line.

She is also authorized to administer shots of anesthesia and local antibiotics, to organize programs and give presentations for children and pregnant women about the importance of fluoride, brushing and flossing to maintain good oral health.

"While I still work under the supervision of a dentist, I have much more professional freedom to help treat diagnosed problems," Sergeant Pool said.

One of the most common diagnoses Sergeant Pool treats is gum disease.

"With periodontal disease, the damage is irreparable," Sergeant Pool said. "I help to prevent the infection from spreading to other teeth."

Airmen usually only require a dental exam once a year, but Sergeant Pool treats patients with special hygiene needs as frequently as every four to six months.

According to Sergeant Pool, the best way to avoid frequent visits to the dentist's office is by brushing and flossing regularly. The use of fluoride and careful attention to proper nutrition is also helpful to sustaining good oral health, she said.

"Nutrition is important for providing gums with Vitamin C to help them heal, and fluoride helps strengthen enamel and make teeth more resistant to decay," said Sergeant Pool. "I recommend swishing with fluoride once a day before going to sleep so a person does not eat or drink afterward and the fluoride can stay on their teeth all night."

Due to current staffing at Ellsworth, appointments with Sergeant Pool are limited to active duty personnel. Sergeant Rhodes said he is grateful to be able to provide Airmen critical dental care they need. Maintaining good oral health not only improves quality of life, it enhances mission readiness for Airmen must be cleared by a dentist to deploy.

"As the NCOIC of dental operations I am thrilled that we were able to obtain a hygienist for the 28th Bomb Wing," said Sergeant Rhodes. "We were very fortunate to get this position, as it is such a small group of specialists who are in very high demand. This increases the scope and quality of care we can provide to our Airmen to meet today's war fighting mission."