ACAJUTLA, El Salvador (NNS) -- Civilian volunteers embarked aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) are supporting a dental readiness mission during the Continuing Promise 2015 (CP-15).
Volunteers from the non-governmental organizations (NGO) University of California San Diego Pre-Dental Society (UCSD PDS) and the Latter-Day Saints Charities (LDSC) assisted local patients with their dental health.
The 14 volunteers working with the dental department include pre-dental students, dental technicians, hygienists, and dentists who are working alongside U.S. Navy and other NGOs. Host nation and partner nation medical and dental professionals also provided dental care in support of CP-15.
Since deploying in April, the dental team has cared for over 3,900 patients in Belize, Guatemala, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, and El Salvador.
The Director for Dental Services aboard Comfort, Capt. James Hill, said he is honored to work alongside both NGOs on CP-15.
"Their assistance is critical to this mission and allows us to treat the number of patients that we do. They are taking time out from their practices, and their lives, so I send them ashore as much as I can," said Hill. "Most of them will stay with us for two mission stops, others will stay for longer."
Hill said the pre-dental students work as assistants, and his goal is to provide them with the opportunities to gain as much experience as they can while serving on the mission.
UCSD graduate Kimberly Baumgardner is currently in her
second year volunteering with the UCSD PDS and will attend dental school in August on an Army scholarship. Upon graduating she will enter the Army as a dentist. She said CP-15 is giving her invaluable field experience.
"I like it because we're a team and we all work together," said Baumgardner. I'm really excited to be a part of the military dental team and to have this experience. I think everyone has had a lot of fun interacting with the patients and working together toward a common goal."
The LDSC volunteers also play a vital role in assisting the Comfort dental team. According to Hill, they bring a wide range of knowledge to the mission and always have a positive approach to giving care.
"LDSC brings a wealth of invaluable experience to this mission," said Hill. "Without the steadfast dedication of their personnel, we could not possibly treat the number of patients we have treated. It is a pleasure to partner with them."
United Kingdom native Kirstin Rogers, a dentist volunteering with UCSD PDS, who recently moved to the United States, said this mission has revived her love of dentistry, and she will do it again if she has the chance.
It's an honor to take part in this mission, and it's incredible to care for the people in these countries. I am humbled by getting this insight into their lives and how the Sailors live out here," said Rogers.
The dental team provides various services at each mission stop including teeth cleanings, direct fillings and other procedures. They can also replace crowns and perform root canals. Cases such as these are screened and the patients are brought aboard the Comfort to receive treatment.
Throughout each mission stop, group dental hygiene demonstrations are given to children on how to properly brush their teeth and the importance of flossing. In each mission stop, the dental team partners with host nation providers to administer these services.
"In each country, we've partnered with host nation dentists for subject matter expert exchanges," said Hill. "Having their local dentists work with us while we're ashore and aboard the ship is a great opportunity that allows for us to collaborate and serve patients together."
The dental team is currently treating patients in El Salvador and plans to give an oral hygiene presentation at a local health fair. They will provide care during the remaining CP-15 mission stops in Colombia, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Honduras and Haiti.
"All the volunteers are enthusiastic, and I have a great group of active duty service members," said Hill. "The dental team works together to keep track of the logistics, coordinate efforts, and effectively use our supplies at each mission stop. It's about coming together and getting the mission done through both quality of care and service to our patients."
Continuing Promise is a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored and U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet-conducted deployment to conduct civil-military operations including humanitarian-civil assistance, subject matter expert exchanges, medical, dental, veterinary and engineering support and disaster response to partner nations and to show the United States' continued support and commitment to Central and South America and the Caribbean.
For more news from Continuing Promise, visit www.navy.mil/local/cp/.