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Dental clinic drills wing leadership during another dirty job

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Chief Master Sgt. Angelica Johnson, 30th Space Wing command chief, inserts a dental impression tray into the mouth of Col. Richard Boltz, 30th SW commander, during a visit to the 30th Medical Operations Squadron Dental Flight here Monday, May 9, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Michael Stonecypher)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Chief Master Sgt. Angelica Johnson, 30th Space Wing command chief, inserts a dental impression tray into the mouth of Col. Richard Boltz, 30th SW commander, during a visit to the 30th Medical Operations Squadron Dental Flight here Monday, May 9, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Michael Stonecypher)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Angelica Johnson, 30th SW command chief, visited members of the 30th Medical Operations Squadron Dental Flight to gain a better understanding of the unit’s mission here Monday, May 13, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Michael Stonecypher)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Angelica Johnson, 30th SW command chief, visited members of the 30th Medical Operations Squadron Dental Flight to gain a better understanding of the unit’s mission here Monday, May 13, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Michael Stonecypher)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A popular myth, often heard in the dental and veterinary communities, suggests that a dog's mouth is actually cleaner than a human's.

Whether or not there is any validity to the myth, personnel at the 30th Medical Operations Squadron Dental Flight here have a dirty job - dirty enough to deem a visit by the installation's commander and command chief.

On the morning of May 9, Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Angelica Johnson, 30th SW command chief, dropped by the base's medical clinic for a hands-on learning experience only the dental flight could provide.

Before getting underway, the commander and command chief donned a matching pair of Navy blue medical scrubs (shirts and trousers), along with other personal protective equipment including surgical masks and latex gloves.

Aleshiea Johnson, a 30th MDOS dental technician, led Vandenberg's leadership through the first task of the day. Ms. Johnson, who received her credentials as a technician at Allan Hancock College, walked Colonel Boltz and Chief Johnson through the steps in which dental impressions are made. Dental impressions serve as a model of a patient's teeth and gums to allow the dental technicians the ability to adequately construct mouth guards, dentures, crowns and other prostheses outside of the patient's mouth.

"This is definitely considered a dirty job," said Ms. Johnson, who is originally from the Central Coast area.

Although dental technicians use PPE, their work environment exposes them to human elements, such as saliva and bacteria, which are kicked up into the air by the tools the technicians use in dentistry.

With Ms. Johnson's guidance, Colonel Boltz and Chief Johnson swapped turns at each step of the impression making process, from stirring the impression paste to placing and removing the impression tray from each other's mouth.

Although gag reflexes were not much of an issue during the wing leadership's visit to the dental clinic, Ms. Johnson has encountered some messy hindrances over the course of her four years in the profession.

"There have been times, when placing the impression tray into a patient's mouth, that I have been vomited on because the patients were not able to suppress their gag reflexes," said Ms. Johnson.

Once the colonel and chief completed the task, they were escorted with their impressions in hand to another section of the dental clinic where they were met by lab technicians Airman 1st Class Shiquita Williams, a native of Alabama, and Airman 1st Class Aaron Jeffers, a Texan.

In the dental lab, Airman Williams and Airman Jeffers demonstrated the process in which dental impressions are used to make athletic mouth guards.

Getting their hands dirty with another paste-like substance, Colonel Boltz and Chief Johnson applied the mouth ground paste around the same dental impressions made earlier that morning.

As the paste quickly hardened, the impressions were taken to a contraption that looked very much like a cheese grater where they were sculpted into shape to form fit the mouth guards.

"This is a very meticulous job," said Airman Jeffers. "It's like working in an art class - it is fun."

With the mouth guards awaiting a 24-hour hardening period, the commander and command chief were accompanied to their last visit of the day. Waiting for them across the hall from the lab was Lt. Col. Darrel Smith, the 30th MDOS dental flight chief. Colonel Smith, who is originally from the Chicago area, had prepared two securely fastened molars in a substance resembling Plaster of Paris to allow the wing leadership to practice the process of drilling and filling a tooth for a cavity.

Carefully maneuvering a drill that resembled a miniature Dremel tool, as Colonel Boltz described it, he began creating a small hole in the center of the molar where the fictitious cavity had formed. Knowing that his wife (who is an ex-dental assistant) would critique his work, Colonel Boltz then diligently inserted the cavity filler and smoothed out the remaining air bubbles to complete the task.

Impressed with the commander's finishing touches was the expert himself, Colonel Smith.

"We'll have to put a credentialing package together for you sir," said Colonel Smith in a jokingly manner.

After Chief Johnson had a chance to drill and fill a molar that was prepared specifically for her, the dental clinic visit came to a close.

"This has been a great opportunity for the wing commander and I to come out and see what some of our Airmen, civilians, and contractors do here," said Chief Johnson. "This is a great example of the whole team working together to do the work of the dental clinic. It was very exciting to see the team working together."

"I'm impressed with all of the attention to detail that is required to do this job," said Colonel Boltz. "The professionalism from the folks I have seen here is incredible."