HomeNewsArticle Display

The 47th Dental Flight fills gaps in manning with innovation

Staff Sgt. Ray Salazar, 47th Medical Group Dental Clinic dental technician, works with records while Staff Sgt. Mark Hughes, 47th MDG Dental Clinic lab technician, provides customer service to a patient on Feb. 25, 2019, at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. Challenges continue to arise as the student pilot population is expected to increase as much as 60 percent in the upcoming year, but Laughlin’s dental team proved themselves up for the challenge by lassoing in the 2018 Air Force Medical Service Small Dental Clinic Award. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anne McCready)

Rita Riojas, 47th Medical Group Dental Clinic dental assistant, presents the exam room she prepared for a tooth filling on Feb. 25, 2019, at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. “We have a really good team here and we help each other out. The people who come in here wonderful and have good attitudes, and I get to learn about where they’re from and learn their stories and goals,” she said. “Every day is a different day.” (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anne McCready)

Rita Riojas, 47th Medical Group Dental Clinic dental assistant, readies a room for a tooth filling procedure on Feb. 25, 2018 at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. Among the procedures Laughlin’s dental team cover are the removal of wisdom teeth, prosthetic crowns, routine cleanings, deep cleanings and readiness exams. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anne McCready)

Tech. Sgt. Adam Barb, 47th Medical Group Dental Clinic NCO in charge of dental logistics, prepares a room for a cleaning by setting out a sterilized tray of tools on Feb. 25, 2018, at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. “Everybody works at the front desk, everybody works in central instrument processing center where we sterilize instruments,” he said. “Everybody chips in and to help out where they can.” (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anne McCready)

Tech. Sgt. Adam Barb, 47th Medical Group Dental Clinic NCO in charge of dental logistics, prepares a room for a cleaning by setting out a sterilized tray of tools, on Feb 25, 2018 at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. These instruments are sterilized by being heated to 275 degrees Ferinhight for 20 minutes to ensure infection does not spread. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anne McCready)

Rita Riojas, 47th Medical Group Dental Clinic dental assistant, often finds herself in charge of choosing matching-color replacement material for fillings and crowns or fillings because of her keen sense of color. Among the procedures Laughlin’s dental team cover are the removal of wisdom teeth, prosthetic crowns, routine cleanings, deep cleanings and readiness exams. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anne McCready)

Staff Sgt. Mark Hughes, 47th Medical Group Dental Clinic lab technician, points to the porcelain cube which can be carved into a prosthetic crown by the computer-aided design & computer-aided manufacturing machine Feb. 25, 2019, at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. Hughes has the equipment and ability to make prosthetic crowns, custom ear pieces, sleep guards, sports guards, and they can make a mold of a person’s face to enable personally fitted masks when the generic mask won’t fit. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anne McCready)

LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas—Much of the Air Force has at one point or another experienced what it’s like to be under-manned, and the Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas 47th Medical Group Dental Clinic is no exception.

When there’s a never-ending push to see how much more can be accomplished by an ever smaller team, adaptation seems to become key. The Laughlin Dental Clinic, like many agencies, is never at 100 percent manning, but they make up for that through endless innovation and teamwork.

Some of the ways the dental team at Laughlin works to innovate goes hand-in-hand with how they bond as a family. For example, the doctors and commander are not above jumping in with the technicians to provide a dental cleaning for a patient or help their tech tidy a room for the next patient.

“Everybody has multiple additional duties, and we can interchange what we do,” said Tech. Sgt. Adam Barb, 47th Medical Group Dental Clinic NCO in charge of dental logistics. “Everybody knows how to work at the front desk, everybody works in central instrument processing center where we sterilize instruments. Everybody chips in and helps out where they can.”

According to Maj. John Mallya, 47th MDG Dental Clinic commander, members of the flight are involved in several wing and group activities in addition to their dental mission. Participating in these additional duties and balancing the demands of dentistry is made possible by trying innovative solutions. Mallya said they changed their scheduling protocol completely several times, depending on manning and patient needs.

“One week we did nothing but readiness exams and cleanings. Since everyone pitched in, we were able to treat more patients, freeing everyone up to do more administrative tasks in the afternoon,” Mallya said. “Being small and flexible allows us to try different things and think outside the box.”

One way the Laughlin Dental Clinic works to go above and beyond the standards of military dental clinics is their level of devotion to the patients.

“We make it a goal to see patients right away,” said Mallya. “At some clinics, patients who come in for sick call might not get in until a day or two later, but we have an unwritten rule that we try to see that person that day. Another thing we do that other clinics aren’t always able to do is give patients an exam and cleaning at the same appointment.”

Team XL dentist’s skill set and advanced equipment allow them to limit the amount of off-base referrals seen in other clinics.

“The number of patients we need to see this month for our annual exam and cleanings is 144, which is the highest number we have,” Barb said. “That’s for the readiness exams alone, not counting other types of various appointments.”

Challenges continue to arise as the student pilot population is expected to increase as much as 60 percent in the upcoming year, but Laughlin’s dental team proved themselves up for the challenge by lassoing in the 2018 Air Force Medical Service Small Dental Clinic of the Year Award.

“I come to work because of the people,” said Rita Riojas, 47th Medical Group Dental Clinic dental assistant. “We have a really good team here and we help each other out. The people who come in here are wonderful and have good attitudes, and I get to learn about where they’re from and learn their stories and goals. Every day is a different day.”

Teamwork and the knowledge they can rely on one another when the going gets tough is what keeps the dental clinic on their feet. They know that if they can depend on one another, they can try new ideas and blaze new paths to ensure Laughlin maintains the highest level of readiness.