“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter the words, but to live by them” – John F. Kennedy
This Memorial Day, we honor the thousands of men and women who have served and continue to serve in our nation’s armed forces, and we remember and give thanks to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. But between all the holiday sales and barbeque invites, the real reason for this day can often be lost on many of us. It’s important that we take a moment to think about why this day exists, and to pay tribute to those who made the choice to serve others, and who made it possible for all of us to enjoy this day, and all other days, in peace and freedom.
Today, we sat down with our very own Valerie – a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, to talk about her experience in the military, as a dental assistant, and why she chooses to serve.
Good morning! Thanks for speaking with me, I know you’re very busy.
You’re very welcome! No problem at all, it’s good to take a break.
I know that you’re a veteran, but not much else. Can you tell us a little about your military career? When you enlisted? What you did?
Of course! So I joined the Air Force when I was just 17 years old, young but certain that this what I wanted to do. In November of 2003, just days before Thanksgiving, I was shipped off to basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX. Initially, I went in open general, so technically I hadn’t been assigned a job as of yet. It wasn’t until my 6th week of boot camp that I received my job and orders. One of the lucky ones you could say, I had the opportunity to become a dental assistant, which is what I was hoping for. After 12 weeks of technical school at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, TX, I graduated and went on to serve as a dental assistant at both McChord AFB in Tacoma, WA and Seymour Johnson AFB in Goldsboro, NC as a reservist. Altogether, I served for 9 years as both active duty member and reservist, and I reached the enlisted rank of Staff Sergeant.
That’s quite the accomplishment! So what made you decide to join the military? Especially at such a young age?
Well, it has actually been somewhat of a tradition in our family to serve. My father and uncles all served, and I had cousins that were enlisted when I was thinking about joining. Because of their helpful insight, I knew that it was a career that I wanted to pursue and it ultimately helped to shape me into the individual I am today.
What a proud family tradition; we all owe you and your family a great debt. As for your work as a dental assistant, was it just a job that you were assigned to and stuck with? Or do you have a sort of affinity for the profession itself?
Well as I mentioned earlier, it was by coincidence that I ended up as a dental assistant at first. But fortunately for me, it paved the way for my future endeavors. Regardless of the degrees, and experiences I obtained, I somehow always came back to dentistry in some way, shape, or form. I’ve learned a lot working in the dental field, and I’ve experienced both the military and civilian side of it and it’s been very rewarding.
Well I’ll say! You’re working for Dental Power now, after all.
That’s right! I just can’t stay away.
How different is it working as a dental assistant in the military, versus in the civilian sector? Any similarities?
The work and devotion is the same but of course, the dynamics are totally different. Much like the civilian sector, military dental assistants do the same thing, but with more emphasis on dental care. Civilian patients have a choice of what dental treatment they receive, in the military not so much. It was imperative that every member was mission ready, so by military standards, you must be in what is called dental class 1 [no issues] or dental class 2 [no immediate treatment needed]. This was so that if a member were called to duty there wouldn’t be a concern of emergency dental treatment that would prevent them from performing in the line of duty. I can say that dental assistants in both the military and civilian sector take their roles very seriously; they show great passion, care, and concern, which is what the patient in the chair wants to feel. Being a dental assistant is about more than assisting the doctor. It’s about being knowledgeable in your role, building rapport with patients, and taking time to educate the patient on the importance of oral health care. Long days, short lunches, putting the job before self is common in both worlds as a dental assistant. It’s many roles in one, but the commitment has been unwavering for the dental assistants I’ve known, whether they are in the Armed Forces or a civilian.
Did you receive dental care provided by the military when you were in service?
Yes, it wasn’t an option. Dental checkups every 6 months were required, and you would be flagged in the system if you missed your appointment. However, on the reserve side, we provided annual dental exams and x-rays, and it was the responsibility of the reservist to follow-up with their primary dentist to complete any dental treatment for issues that we found during the exam. The reservist would be re-checked during the next drill weekend to ensure they were on track to having the work completed, especially if they were due to deploy.
Dental health is obviously taken very seriously in the military. How important do you think it is for servicemembers to receive proper dental care?
I believe it’s very critical for service members to receive proper dental care and to be educated on the importance of maintaining good dental health. Many service members serve in the capacity of being mission essential, which means at any moment you may be called to duty. And anyone who’s had a toothache knows they cannot properly perform until that tooth is taken care. This is why it is important to make sure dental treatment is provided promptly and taken seriously. If someone has to stay behind because they didn’t get their dental checklist completed, you’ve in a sense let down your squadron and now they’re a person short. Sure it may sound silly, because people think “oh it’s just a cavity.” But small cavities turn into big problems, and left untreated for long enough, you create a problem that causes severe pain and requires several visits and now said individual can’t perform his or her duties.
I don’t think it’s silly at all. I can hardly do my desk job when I have dental problems, I can’t even imagine trying to perform in the kind of stressful and potentially dangerous environment as our servicemembers do, with so much at stake.
Exactly! That’s why it’s so important to stay on top of their dental care.
Well, I think I’ve taken up enough of your time. But before we go, tell us about your time here at Dental Power. How long have you been with us? What do you do? And do you enjoy your work here?
You should know this! I’m kidding, I know it’s for the blog. I have been working at Dental Power for almost a year now, as a Dentist Placement Specialist. In my role, I mostly help dentists looking for associateships find their career home. Of course, on the other side of the equation, I help practices find top talent to join their teams. I enjoy working here because while we’re a small company we all work together to make sure our practices looking to hire and our dentist seeking employment are both satisfied. I’m proud to be part of a team that provides a service of commitment, quality, and a peace of mind knowing that a member of Dental Power is advocating and working hard for them. Now that I work in a different arena of dentistry, I still get to marry my dental experience with my current role; it allows me to connect with the dentists because I can understand their needs and concerns. It allows me to be relatable because I do have that dental background and that goes a long way in this job.
Well, it’s certainly nice to have you here! Thanks again for doing this interview with me, and of course, thank you for your service.
Any time! Thanks for having me.
Special thanks to Valerie for taking time out of her busy schedule to conduct this interview with us. We’re lucky to have her on our team, and thankful for her service to our country and the dental community.
Dental Power is extremely proud of our partnership with the U.S. Armed Forces – supplying highly qualified dental talent to different branches of the military. Our providers – which include dentists, hygienists, as well as dental assistants – deliver a full range of dental services to our soldiers and their families; from pre-deployment screenings, regular check-ups, to complicated procedures. Within the last year alone, Dental Power providers have supplied over 100,000 hours of dental care to members of the U.S. military. Though a mere pittance compared to the sacrifices our servicemembers make, we are honored and grateful for the opportunity to serve those who serve. If you are a dental professional and are interested in finding out how you can be part of this great effort, contact us today for more information.