86th Dental Squadron readies USAFE Airmen

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Nicole Keim
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Readiness to deploy at a moment’s notice is a top priority for Airmen within U.S. Air Forces in Europe, and the 86th Dental Squadron plays a critical role in ensuring members across the Kaiserslautern Military Community are worldwide qualified.

At the biggest USAFE dental clinic, days are never dull for the dental technicians, with the responsibility to tend to more than 250 patients a day from across the KMC. They not only ensure the dental health of those within the local area, but also those at 250 geographically separated units, through a point of contact that checks to ensure USAFE Airmen are deployment ready.

“Teamwork is essential in accomplishing the mission here,” said Tech. Sgt. Matthew Larsen, 86th DS support flight chief. “It’s essential because of our high volume of patients …This is such a large machine. All the Airmen in the clinic help each other and work together to be wingmen because if one person drops out it can be a burden.”

The clinic is comprised of a clinical and a support section. Services offered here include general dentistry, orthodontics, periodontics, prosthodontics, endodontics, oral surgery, preventative dentistry and has both an area and base dental lab.

With more than 1,000 patients walking through the door every week, it is no surprise that there are approximately 130 personnel working at this facility to keep the gears oiled and things running smoothly.

With such a large customer base, it presents a particular challenge, Larsen explained.

“This job has taught me to be compassionate and caring, and to listen and empathize,” he said. “It taught me not to look at a patient as a number but to [listen to their needs].  We see many patients all the time, every day, so we address and treat those patients like they are the first one each and every time. That way when we are speaking to them or listening, a rapport is built, and they know that you are genuine and care about their needs.”

Once an Airmen leaves to a deployed environment, there is no surety of quality dental care, so it is a priority to care for members before they leave.

“The dental team is a critical piece of the mission here at Ramstein because we need folks to be able to deploy at a moment’s notice,” said Chief Master Sgt. Johnny Grassi, 86th DS chief enlisted manager. “Sometimes, some dental work that needs to be done, cannot be done in a single day. Generally in a deployed environment, there’s usually a very [limited amount of dental care] that’s out there. If someone needs anything done, the chances are slim that it can be fixed out in the field. A lot of times they will have to send the member back [to home station], so we want to minimize that.”

Being prepared around the clock is crucial in worldwide readiness, explained Larsen.

“All of the services we provide ensure Airmen are dentally ready,” he said. “It’s important because it is a part of total health. We have to be physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally prepared when we are deployed. You have to be medically ready so that you can do your job.”

Although different from many stateside or smaller overseas assignments, the clinic on Ramstein teaches Airmen valuable lessons which give them a broader view of their impact on the mission.

“For an Airmen to be stationed here, it’s a great opportunity because we have every specialty that Air Force dentistry provides,” Grassi said. “From a technical aspect, they can leave here and be very well-rounded and competent going to their next base, even possibly more so than a dental assistant with more rank.”

The dental team at Ramstein continuously provides care to Airmen so that they can remain Forward, Ready, Now.