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Special Operations Forces dental clinic brings smiles to Iraqi children

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Special Operations Forces dental clinic brings smiles to Iraqi children
BAGHDAD, Iraq: Dozens of Iraqi children scampered from one station to the next during the first ‘Smile Day’ at the Iraqi special operations forces dental clinic located on an Iraqi military compound near Baghdad on 28 and 29 June. A staff of Iraqi dentists and dental hygienists, along with coalition forces volunteers, conducted the event that introduced approximately 50 young visitors to dental care. The affair, manned by a team of four dentists and 10 technicians, was designed to be fun and to educate local children about preventative care.

With the summer heat starting to reach new heights, a busload of children marched into an air-conditioned waiting room and was greeted with smiling faces, coloring books and an assortment of toys. However, it wasn’t all fun and games for the youthful crowd.

“The goal is to teach them lifelong habits that they can carry with them to prevent dental decay — that they learn the techniques that they can bring home, adopt and utilize,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Mark DiBurro.

As he stated the goal of the event, the dental advisor pointed out a dental puppet sitting on a nearby table that the dental team uses to help in the educational process.

“Hopefully, they adopt a fondness to make sure they take care of their oral health,” DiBurro said. “We want them to appreciate the importance of taking care of their teeth and maintaining their oral hygiene for a lifetime.”

While the American volunteers helped out by conducting the dental screenings and cleanings, the Iraqi dental staff handled all of the actual dental work.

A majority of the work performed on the children were sealants, a protective covering that goes over the tooth to prevent decay from occurring in the future. According to DiBurro, sealants are known to reduce oral caries by 60 to 80 per cent.

“We are screening kids for any oral pathologies, oral caries and seeing what problems they have,” said Dr Mohammad Kasim, the ISOF dentist. “These children live here and don’t have access to dental care so we are giving them the care they want to prevent future dental problems.”

“We can prevent disease before it ever even occurs,” DiBurro explained. “You’re saving a lot of manpower, a lot of time, a lot of discomfort for patients in the future.”

The group of Iraqi and American service members all took something different from the two-day affair.

“I am very happy ... because I know all the kids here eat a lot of candy and all those sweets,” said Maj. Raheem Falen, a civil affairs officer who helped facilitate the event. According to Falen, who spoke through an interpreter, everyone was ecstatic to get involved in ‘Smile Day.’

For some this was a new experience, and for Kasim it was certainly worthwhile.

“We’re teaching them how to brush, how to floss, how to take care of their teeth and how important dental care is. It’s a great thing,” Kasim said. “The children experience the dental clinic and they can get used to it.”

Kasim, who spoke fluent English, said he hopes that the children get comfortable being in the dentist’s chair. He then mentioned the common fear people have of visiting a dentist. With a smile on his face, Kasim said that perhaps the children will convince their parents to come to the dental clinic as well.

“It’s very rewarding to see the children smile and have fun interacting with dental personnel,” DiBurro said. “Not only by getting their teeth clean, but just hanging out and getting to know each other.”

At the end of the day, Kasim said he hopes both the children and the military dental staff leave with something to smile about.

(Edited by Fred Michmershuizen, DTA)

by By Jeffrey Ledesma, USA

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