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Dental changes for soldiers

Go First Class program limits time in chair

Soldiers can now receive full dental work in one visit through the Go First Class program. Photo credit: Candateshia Pafford

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Although dental services have always been covered and available to soldiers, the Go First Class (GFC) program is changing the way they are provided. GFC was created so that soldiers can get an examination, a cleaning and, potentially, receive necessary treatment at a single appointment. This was a reaction to the fact that multiple visits, often spread out over months, were costing the Army resources, time and money.

"It used to be a multi-month project to get one soldier through an exam, a cleaning and, let's say, a filling," said Donald S. Chappell, practice manager at Dental Clinic #3 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. "In the military - especially in light of training, deployments and more - that might as well be two years."

According to a mandate from the Army Dental Command, all of the Army's 130 dental clinics must adhere to the Go First Class program by Oct. 1.

Luckily for Chappell, who has been at JBLM since his retirement from the Army in 2007, his dental clinic was included in the pilot program launched last year when DENCOM was evaluating the program's efficacy. So, he admitted, there is an advantage for his clinic's 7,600 patients.

However, he estimated that the six clinics are utilizing the GFC model 75 percent of the time as of right now and those numbers should continue to climb.

"The goal is to get our soldier population to Class 1 wellness, which means they have good oral health and hygiene," he said. "Hopefully with consistent care, most soldiers will only have to see us once a year."

Granted, not everyone will be Class 1 after just a single annual visit; there are four classifications in total, ranging from Class 2, which might involve a cavity and Class 3, which would be a condition bordering on a dental emergency.

GFC is focused especially on those with a Class 4 designation because that means a soldier has no documented examination within a 12-month period and classifies him as nondeployable. It is estimated that if every soldier had a GFC appointment, the Army would recoup 1.25 million of hours of lost productivity.

"This is not a revolutionary system," Chappell stated, adding that civilian practitioners have used this model for patients for years. "Of course there is still a transition that needs to be made and human resources can limit implementation, but once it is in place, things are easier."

Indeed, since starting the GFC last year, statistics at JBLM Dental Clinic #3 are better; Chappell cites an improvement from 28 percent to 48 percent of soldiers being Class 1, within just 12 months.

Soldiers are advised to arrive 20 minutes before their appointments and cancel, if necessary, at least 48 hours in advance. Walk-ins are still available, though on a very limited basis.

"We're pulling them out of their units less, away from their jobs less and it will be less disruptive," he explained. "This is part of the Army's healthcare plan to be resilient through prevention." 

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