News: Army reserve unit provides dental care to Pine Ridge
Story by Staff Sgt. Carlos Lazo
PINE RIDGE, S.D. — Little Wanbli had been crying for over a week. His father didn't know what was wrong with the child's teeth, or what caused him so much pain. Unfortunately, the local dental office was closed, and had been for a long time.
He decided to travel the 25 miles to the Pine Ridge Reservation Hospital to seek treatment for his son. He didn't know before leaving that the hospital's dental staff was minimally staffed. It was unlikely Wanbli Whiteface would be seen that day.
There are very few dentists in the area to meet the needs of the local population, according to Staff Sgt. Marcela Reyes. "We have populations that come here all the way from Colorado."
Reyes, senior dental non-commissioned officer, 455th Medical Company (Dental Services) out of Devens, Mass., explains how the lack of dental support for the community helped her unit decide where to come for their annual training this year.
"We wanted to come here because we like to provide care for the local population. We just like to lend a helping hand," said Reyes.
Lt. Col. Edward Hovarth, deputy commander, chief clinic services for the 256th Combat Support Hospital, Twinsburg, Ohio, is working at Pine Ridge during the Golden Coyote training exercise and said, "I just love being here doing this type of work because the Sioux people have such a warrior tradition and they greatly appreciate our people in uniform."
For the five days of operations thus far, an average of 38 to 40 patients a day have been seen at the dental clinic for various procedures. Although tooth extractions were the most common procedure done, Reyes said her unit also helped with simple procedures like root canals and cavity fillings. The 455th's work has not gone unnoticed.
"It is wonderful to bring in an Army unit to provide these dental services to people in such a mass quantity," said Lt. Cmdr. Nicole Glines, community and clinical hygienist at Pine Ridge Reservation Hospital and part of the U.S. Public Health Service.
The 455th brought a total of 31 personnel here, said Reyes. That includes four dentists, dental assistants and supply personnel to help with operations.
"This 16-chair dental clinic is full and busy because of their [455th] presence," said Glines. "Normally, with our [regular] staff we can only keep about four operatories (stations) going and that's including two hygienists and the three dentists that we have."
With all the stations going, Wanbli was able to be seen and receive the help he needed.
Spc. Cristina Serratos, a native of Boston, used her experience to help calm Wanbli earlier in the day during his tooth extraction procedure. "He's very small, he's only five years old," she said, "We had to do an extraction because the new teeth were pushing right underneath ... the baby teeth were getting in the way."
The dental care is something Wanbli's father is grateful for receiving.
"They talked to him and calmed him down and made sure he was alright," said Cornell Whiteface, Wanbli's father and a local resident of Pine Ridge Reservation. "He came out OK, and the toothache is gone."
"Pine Ridge residents are eager to see the dentists that come during Golden Coyote," said Havarth. "It benefits the Pine Ridge community as a whole, because their presence increases the access of care and that is the most important thing here."
The sentiment at the clinic is that there are different standards for credentialing dentists aiding the Pine Ridge community. "Credentialing is always a problem," said Jan Collon, acting clinical director. Dentists come for only a few days because of this process and according to Collon, "It's unfortunate we only have these professionals for one to two days at a time."
Even though the equipment is aging in the clinic, Capt. Jose Rodriguez, chief dental officer for Pine Ridge stated, "We are pretty well equipped here." He also added the extra help allows people to share information and ideas, which he says, "doubles the capabilities of dental care for those two weeks. It's wonderful for the community here."