Army’s dental residency ends in Germany

Christine June
U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern

The October graduation ceremony for four active-duty dentists assigned here as part of the Army’s Advanced Program in General Dentistry-One Year will be the last in Germany.

Practicing out of the Pulaski Dental Clinic for the past year, these dentists will graduate Oct. 19, ending this residency program’s seven-year presence in Germany.

Offering clinical experience to Army dentists and care to space-available patients, the U.S. Army Dental Corps’ program has been in Germany since 1999, first in Baumholder before moving to the KMC in 2003. The parent organization for the program here is the Landstuhl Dental Activity on Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

Whether or not the program will return to Germany, which was the only overseas location, is uncertain at this time, said Col. Edward Koditek, the program’s director here.

“It’s a great program, and it’s sad that we are losing it (in Germany), but the bottom line is that the Army is still going to train the same number (of dentists), but they are just not going to be here,” said Colonel Koditek, who has seven years involvement with this program, three of them here and four at Fort Carson, Colo.

He said the program will continue at the six stateside locations, training 40 dentists out of about 160 applicants a year.
Advantages of this program for dentists, said Colonel Koditek, are “phenomenal experience, especially clinical dental training by board-certified specialists in each respective discipline.”

Disciplines such as Orthodontics, Pediatrics and Oral Surgery are not exactly taught to the residents, as each are already licensed dentists. What they are getting is experience in these and more dental disciplines including Forensic Odontology, the study of teeth for law enforcement or identifications of human remains.

“When we graduate from dental school and take the licensing exam, we’re licensed to perform any dental procedure that we feel comfortable and confident in performing,” said Capt. Matt Phillips, one of this year’s graduating resident dentists. “However, when you graduate from dental school, there are a lot of advanced procedures that you don’t get a lot of experience with so by participating in this program, we’re able to get experience and training that we need to feel comfortable in doing those procedures.”

Each of the four dentists received about 12 multi-disciplinary, complex dental treatment cases at the beginning of the yearlong program, said Colonel Koditek, who described these cases as having as many dentistry disciplines as possible in one. He said the goal for resident dentists is to finish these core complex cases in the 12 months they are enrolled in the program.
However, these are not the only patients that these dentists treated during the program. Colonel Koditek estimated each resident saw between 200 to 300 patients during this past year.

“They (dental educators) say that when you do a one-year program like this you have experience equal to a dentist who has practiced for five years,” said Capt. Tina O’Bryant, another resident dentist graduating this year. “So, it takes about five years treating patients to become quick and proficient and competent as a person who completed a program such as this.”

Mentors – board-certified specialists – in the varied dental disciplines could be called the core of the program, such as Orthodontist Lt. Col. Thorpe Whitehead, who as a specialist at Pulaski Dental Clinic, a referral clinic,  sees Soldiers and beneficiary children from Miesau Army Depot to Sembach Annex, an area about 1,250 square miles.

“They are assigned about five (orthodontic) patients with limited or minor treatment needs, and we take them through the diagnosis and the treatment planning stage, and they come up with a problem list and how they plan the treatment,” said Colonel Whitehead. “I’m basically guiding them through the treatment, but they are doing the hands-on training.”

Graduation for Captains Phillips, O’Bryant, José Cangas and James Cobb Jr. is 3 p.m. Oct. 19 at the Armstrong Community Club on Vogelweh Housing.
Beginnings of this residency program can be traced through the U.S. Army Dental Corps’ history as early as July 1939 with the start of the Army Dental Internship Program (one year).