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What gives? Why your annual dental appointment is important.

Airman 1st Class Robin Reese, a 319th Medical Operations Squadron dental assistant, adjusts the dental chair light so it properly illuminates a patient’s mouth during a routine dental check up, Nov. 6, 2012, on Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. Reese assists with approximately 50 to 80 dental procedures per month. As a dental assistant, Reese assists doctors in specialty areas such as oral surgery, periodontics (treatment of gum disease), prosthodontics (replacement of missing teeth) and endodontics (root canal treatment). He also takes, develops and mounts dental X-rays. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Luis Loza Gutierrez)

Airman 1st Class Robin Reese, a 319th Medical Operations Squadron dental assistant, adjusts the dental chair light so it properly illuminates a patient's mouth during a routine dental checkup, Nov. 6, 2012, on Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. Reese assists with approximately 50 to 80 dental procedures per month. According to recent figures the Grand Forks AFB Dental Clinic performs an average of 1,200 dental exams per year. This average includes exams performed on active-duty members of other services and activated members of the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Luis Loza Gutierrez)

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE -- Every year I get a phone call from some person telling me that it's time for me to come in for my dental exam and cleaning. They sound friendly enough, but I know what it really means. They just want to ram some gigantic x-ray plates in my mouth, poke my gums till they bleed, scratch my teeth like nails on a chalkboard, berate me on how atrocious my flossing habits are, and tell me to stop eating anything with sugar or anything that I think tastes good. What gives?

If you've ever wondered why your annual dental appointment is so important to the Air Force, this article is for you.

They just need to look in my mouth, why do I need to fill out a health history?
Dentists are health care professionals, meaning we care about the total physical well-being of our patients. A lot of health problems directly affect the head, neck, and mouth. We need to be aware of these interactions. Some health problems can even be improved with good dental care. Medications can interact with products we plan to use or prescribe. Filling out an accurate health history helps us to help you to the best of our ability.

What are those numbers they call out while they poke my gums?
The numbers are called a PSR (periodontal screening and recording). It is a measurement of how healthy the gingiva (gums) is, and how good or bad the home care has been. A zero is very good and a four is very bad.

What is the point of the x-rays?
X-rays are an excellent adjunctive device that we use to diagnose problems in the mouth. It is impossible to find small carious lesions (cavities) in between the teeth without x-rays.

Why do they have to scrape on my teeth?
As plaque sits on teeth for an extended period of time it can become calcified. This makes it become a hard substance, firmly affixed to the tooth, called calculus or tartar. If it doesn't get scaled off routinely, the bacteria inside can cause problems for the tooth, gums, and supporting bone. The bacteria can also negatively affect overall patient health including diabetes, heart disease, and pregnancy.

But why does all this matter to the Air Force?
Dental readiness is part of your overall readiness. Without an annual dental exam we can't be sure that your mouth will be free from a dental emergency within the next year. Dental emergencies can be incredibly inconvenient. They are painful, expensive, may require an air evacuation if in a remote area, and directly hurt the mission.

If you need to schedule your annual dental exam/cleaning or need to speak directly with a dentist, call the Grand Forks Air Force Base Dental Clinic at DSN 362-5393 or via commercial line at 701-747-5393 to set up an appointment.