MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- Aboard the Combat Center, Marines and sailors are familiar with the reality of deploying. As the Combat Center is the largest live-fire training center in the Marine Corps, keeping the Marines and sailors medically ready is a top priority.
A big part of keeping Marines and sailors medically ready is their oral health. The 23rd Dental Company Clinic is the only dental facility aboard the installation, and treats more than 10,000 Marines and sailors annually.
“Over 10,000 Marines and sailors come through our dental facility,” said Cmdr. Melissa Ruff, clinic director, 23rd Dental Company. “Those Marines and sailors include all of the stationed units aboard the Combat Center as well as students from the Marine Corps Communication-Electronics School and those units going through the Integrated Training Exercise.”
With much hard work and dedication, the dental clinic recently reached a milestone.
“Our monthly readiness goal has always been to reach 95 percent of Marines and sailors in classes one and two,” said Ruff. “In February 2014, we finally reached that goal and have maintained it through the month of March. All of the hard work and dedication from our staff has helped us in reaching this goal.”
A class-one dental readiness standing means your dental record is correct and all of your treatment has been completed. Class two means your record is administratively current, but you have dental conditions for which dental strongly recommends you schedule routine care. Class three is a status in which patients require treatment to correct dental conditions that are likely to cause a dental emergency within 12 months. Class four is when you require a dental examination or do not have a dental record.
“We have to know what the needs of the Marines and sailors are aboard the base, dental wise,” Ruff said. “In order to do this, every Marine and sailor is required to do an annual exam, which designates them into a class one, two, three or four.”
Classes three and four place Marines and sailors in a non-readiness category and deems them non-deployable.
To reach the 95 percent goal, Erlinda Glover, front desk manager, 23rd Dental Clinic, devised a ‘stand-down’ that consisted of monthly emails to all of the units aboard the Combat Center, informing them of which service members were approaching classes three and four.
“I remember when I was here nine years ago, we didn’t have this in place,” Glover said. “It made me start thinking how we could reach our readiness goal, and this ‘stand-down’ effort has been effective.”
Currently, the clinic consists of 16 active-duty doctors and 29 corpsmen that assist the doctors in conducting exams. On any given day, each doctor can have from six to eight patients.
“We work extremely hard here, but it’s worth it knowing the impact we have on the Marines and sailors readiness aboard the base,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Sharon Williams, hospital corpsman, 23rd Dental Company. “It has been a great team effort for everyone involved here, and we look forward to maintaining our goal.”
The clinic also contains 12 civilian employees consisting of three hygienists and 9 dental assistants, all of which are spouses or dependents of active-duty military personnel.
“This is my way of contributing,” said Debbie Genet, root canal assistant, 23rd Dental Company. “My main priority is my patients. I do my best to make sure they are as comfortable as possible. No one wants to come in for a root canal, but we do our best here to make sure every Marine and sailor is well taken care of.”
The clinic offers a Red Cross Dental Assisting Program, which is a volunteer opportunity for civilians interested in pursuing a career in the dental field. They are required to complete 700 hours of assisting, as well as training in all of the departments, to receive their certificate of completion.
“The program is a great opportunity for anyone who is interested in the dental field,” Genet said. “All of our volunteers take their positions very seriously and it is a chance to get great hands-on experience.”
The clinic also remains busy with the task of checking Marines and sailors in and out. The clinic offers check-in and check-outs during their sick call hours, which are 7:00-10:00 am and 1:00-2:00 pm. The clinic also has a 24-hour duty officer on-call for emergencies.
“Our ultimate goal is making sure our Marines and sailors are dental-ready while promoting the importance of oral health,” Ruff said. “If we can do all of that, and maintain 95 percent readiness, we are accomplishing our mission in an impressive fashion.”