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DENTAC, Red Cross train dental assistants

Madigan Public Affairs Dr. Daniel Banks, left, and Samantha Sud-Martinez give a filling to Sgt. Sean Dolan, with the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne).

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Service members and family members are learning to do medical charting, conduct dental exams and help with fillings and sealants thanks to a dental assistant training program here.

Ten students are studying to be dental assistants in the second class of the American Red Cross Dental Assistant Program on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, which operates through a partnership between the American Red Cross and the JBLM Dental Activity.

“We give them a snapshot of everything that is going to be tangible to them being competent dental assistants,” said Staff Sgt. Chavis Batie, the assistant training and operations noncommissioned officer for JBLM DENTAC.

The six-month course includes clinical and classroom instruction from dentists, dental assistants and other experts. Since the students train in the clinics as volunteers, the Red Cross takes care of all of their onboarding and supports students administratively.

Anyone with a Department of Defense ID card and who is 18 or older, to include service members, family members and retirees, can apply for the dental assistant course.

“One of the real benefits of the program is that it supports the community, offers vocational support and supports big Army’s Soldier for Life program,” said Col. Shan Bagby, the commander of the JBLM Dental Activity. “It’s a win-win for the unit, the community and the Army at large.”

Learning new skills to help her transition to the civilian workforce is why one student joined the program.

“I’ve just seen it as a really good opportunity to learn a new skill set that could possibly start me in the direction of a career once I exit the military,” said Sgt. Samantha Sud-Martinez, 17th Field Artillery Brigade, working in human resources. As a dental assistant student, she’s working a few days a week at the Fulton Dental Clinic, on Lewis Main, learning the skills of the trade as well as gaining more experience working alongside civilians.

While the free course provides all of the training students need to work as dental assistants, those who want to work for civilian clinics may need some more civilian training, Batie said.

Even so, the program “is a step in the right direction,” Batie said.

“You’re already familiarized with a lot of material that they’re going to be using, a lot of terminology they’ll be using, even some of the techniques,” he said.

Being able to land a steady job either with the military or civilian workforce is why Baylen Houchin signed up for the program.

“This is a great opportunity for my future, whether my husband gets stationed somewhere else or he gets out,” Houchin said.

When they graduate, Houchin, Sud-Martinez and their classmates will earn a certificate of program completion and the possibility of employment in the field.

“The good thing about the program is that you are eligible to apply for a job with the DENTAC itself,” said Sgt. Gregory Runion, with the Okubo Dental Clinic on Lewis North.

Alma Robison is one of those success stories; she graduated from the program last year and now works as a dental assistant at the Okubo Dental Clinic. As a military spouse, Robison liked that the DENTAC program is a more flexible course for the Army’s mobile lifestyle as it’s half the length of the civilian course she previously considered.

Robison said she and the dentist she’s paired with make a good team for patients.

“It’s fixing teeth, fixing cavities, (working with) people who have never had any knowledge of teeth brushing or even seen a dentist in their entire life before joining the military, and just being able to teach them,” Robison said.

She plans to continue learning new skills so she can accomplish her next dream of being an oral surgery assistant.

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