Inside Dental Assisting
United States Air Force Dental Assistants Serve Patients and Country
The recent ADA and ADAA Annual Session in San Francisco was attended by more than a dozen Air Force dental assistants who spoke with Inside Dental Assisting about their careers. Arriving from Air Force stations around the world, they are serving their country—and dentisty—for a number of reasons: independence, travel, education, stability, and a good career. A few of them talk about following in family footsteps, and one indicates that she and her husband joined together.
These individuals came to dental assisting in the Air Force largely because of a military placement exam. Their initial reactions to being assigned to dental assisting ranged from “first choice” to “worst thing ever.” Now they are united in their career path, recognizing it is one of the very few positions with the opportunity to connect with many Air Force personnel, who must come for dental appointments. Military personnel can be just as nervous about dentistry as the general population, and these dental assistants recognize ways to make a difference. Some assistants, previously fearful of dentistry themselves, recount how they are able to share their experience with their patients.
When asked what they would like dental assistants in civilian life, or those contemplating dental assisting, to know about their careers, their responses are immediate and passionate: the military is interested in their well-being; the dentists have a high level of confidence in their training and abilities; and there is opportunity as well as a requirement for continual growth and self improvement. On a personal level, they reflect on becoming each other’s second family, pushing each other, and providing support when needed. These men and women want the dental community to know that “the military builds great leaders, but we are also great followers” and “each one of us has an amazing tradition to share.”
Other important experiences available to Air Force dental assistants include humanitarian missions to less developed countries, relationship building around the world, third world country national escort, and deployment into combat areas. One more available experience is that of the dental forensics team. While every Air Force dental assistant receives training, there are special teams trained in forensics. This team is the first line of identification for all military personnel who have made the ultimate sacrifice as they are returned home via Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
Once their Air Force career concludes, the majority of the group indicated an interest in remaining in or furthering their dental career, either clinically or in practice management or education, with a few opting for other directions, mostly in other healthcare arenas. Their service has provided them not only with great technical and management skills, but confidence and work ethics as well. As CMSgt Carolyn Regan, the first female career Dental Field Manager in the Air Force, says, “We are professional dental assistants, capable of serving our country and our patients.”