Offshore Drilling? Dental program receives test run onboard the CGC Boutwell

by Petty Officer Erik J. Swanson

Remnants of the petty officer 1st class lounge still linger like the smell of bacon on the mess deck after breakfast. The abandoned entertainment center and golf clubs remain as a reminder that laughs and good times were once shared there. Once a safe haven for crewmembers, the lounge hasn’t been the same since the dental crew arrived. “Say ahhh.”

The lounge ‘renovation’ began April 8 when a dental crew reported aboard the CGC Boutwell to provide dental readiness exams and x-rays underway.

“Completing dental exams underway allows crewmembers to utilize their time in port,” said Capt. Peter J. Brown, commanding officer of the CGC Boutwell. In port time can instead be spent with family and getting work done on the ship.
Coast Guard cutter crewmembers have traditionally experienced the conflicting schedules of the clinic and ship, limiting time to schedule exams and the necessary follow-up appointments.

Completing dental exams while underway will allow crewmembers to keep their mandatory annual dental exams up to date, scheduling only necessary follow-up appointments upon return, said Lt. Cmdr. Adriana C. Stegman, the volunteer dental officer for the CGC Boutwell stationed at the Integrated Support Command Alameda Clinic.

Another benefit of the dental program is to give afloat experience to dental officers, said Stegman. In the past, the Coast Guard dental community hasn’t had the chance to get underway.

Considering the limited space onboard a Coast Guard cutter, special equipment is required to accommodate an operational dental crew.

Recently, Coast Guard clinics have purchased digital mobile dental and x-ray equipment to provide dental readiness exams to remote Coast Guard land units, said Capt. Hsiao P. Peng, the Pacific Area regional dental officer and dental program director.

“A number of successful visits have been made to Coast Guard units to provide dental readiness exams, so the next step was to take the equipment onboard a ship,” said Peng.

Program directors, Jean A. Dominguez, the Maintenance and Logistics Command Pacific Area health and safety division chief, and Peng were looking for an Alameda based cutter to participate in the dental program. Upon hearing about the opportunity, the CGC Boutwell volunteered.

Solicitations were then sent out for a dental officer and dental technician, and Stegman and Petty Officer 3rd Class Juan A. Zavala of the Integrated Support Command Alameda Clinic volunteered.

Prior to the CGC Boutwell getting underway, Zavala loaded the necessary dental equipment onboard the ship. He also chose a working space and tested out the equipment. No sterilizing equipment was used, so enough equipment had to be provided to accommodate the entire crew.

The dental crew flew to Manzanillo, Mx., to meet the CGC Boutwell on April 7. They were given one week to complete as many exams as possible in a petty officer 1st class lounge.

Zavala said there were major differences between completing exams underway versus at the clinic. Every morning, the petty officer 1st class lounge was transformed into a mini dental clinic. Golf clubs, a big screen TV and lounge furniture were moved to make way for a portable x-ray machine and an exam chair. Zavala also taped the wheels of three chairs used in the mini clinic so they wouldn’t roll into a wall as the ship took a swell.

Chief Raymond F. Funke, Petty Officer 2nd Class Curtis J. Munsey and Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph R. Millner were an enormous help, said Zavala. They transformed the lounge into a clinic, scheduled appointments and made sure people didn’t miss them.

“If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have been able to see as many patients as we did, said Zavala. We got out there and completed all of April and some of the May exams. The CGC Boutwell returned home over 95 percent dental ready.”

Although no drills or waterlines were used for this trip, concern sprang up around the ship about drills and sharp objects entering the mouth while the ship is swaying back and forth in the Pacific Ocean. A crewmember jokingly said to Zavala, “Don’t stab me in the mouth!” He and Dr. Stegman worked to make crewmembers feel as comfortable as possible during their exam.

“The dental crew was really nice,” said Seamen Jessica N. Navarro, of the CGC Boutwell. “It was really convenient having my dental exams completed underway.”

Upon review by program directors, the CGC Boutwell dental program was considered an overall success, said Peng. The Pacific Area Health and Safety Division is looking forward to future dental crew deployments onboard cutters.

The CGC Morgenthau plans to accommodate a dental crew during a six-month patrol in South East Asia, said Peng. The dental crew is expected to meet the cutter in the Philippines late summer of 2008 and have three weeks to complete readiness exams before arriving back in Alameda, Calif. Dental program directors are also looking to send a crew aboard the CGC Midgett.

“I think that having Dr. Stegman and Petty Officer Zavala onboard during our transit home from patrol was great,” said Brown. “I would plan on doing it again and urge other units to participate.”

In just a week underway, the dental crew turned a petty officer 1st class lounge into a fully operational dental exam clinic, completing all scheduled exams as the ship while taking on 8-to-10 foot swells. In the Coast Guard’s 218 year history, there hasn’t been anything quite like it.

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