Military Dentists Provide Relief and Support in Central America | 2022-03-08

By Claudia Sanchez-Bustamante, MHS Communications

Image of U.S. Army Sgt. Thomas Lemieux (center), dental assistant with Army Forces Battalion, Joint Task Force-Bravo, and Col. Franklin Florence (right), general dentist with Army Forces Battalion, Joint Task Force-Bravo, prepare a patient for an extraction with assistance from a Honduran volunteer during a Global Health Engagement at Los Laureles, Santa Barbara department, Honduras, Feb. 15. JTF-Bravo, in conjunction with Honduran Ministry of Health representatives, conducted the mission to provide dental and other medical services with volunteer support from Honduran medical students, who served as interpreters.
Preparing a patient for an extraction with assistance from a Honduran volunteer during a Global Health Engagement at Los Laureles, Santa Barbara department, Honduras, Feb. 15.

Cavities or other dental troubles are problems faced by people around the world. 

In February, hundreds of locals from communities in Honduras received dental and medical treatment during a Global Health Engagement that Joint Task Force-Bravo’s medical element conducted to help the area’s local population. 

“We treated about 200 citizens, performing multiple extractions and/or providing preventive counseling,” said Army Col. (Dr.) Franklin Florence, the dental officer in charge for the joint medical team. The team deployed to provide preventive medicine, primary care, basic surgeries, dental and pharmacy services to locals in San José de Oriente and Los Laureles. 

“Happily, lots of people who otherwise have great difficulty getting to dentists received needed care,” he added. 

The joint task force operates as the U.S. Southern Command’s lead forward-based element in Central America to promote stability and counter transnational and transregional threat networks. The task force conducts these types of exercises often to develop relationships and partnerships with local officials and entities, “while enhancing citizens’ health,” said Florence. 

“Our aim is to treat all individuals with respect and truly try to help them,” he said. 

As part of U.S. SOUTHCOM’s commitment to strengthening partner nation capacities, JTF-Bravo conducts medical exercises throughout Honduras and Central America every year to support local medical efforts as well as maintain expeditionary readiness, providing real-world benefits to the Honduran population. 

Readiness Test 

These exercises are also a test of medical readiness, “to self-evaluate and improve our readiness while enhancing our partnership with our Central American neighbors,” said Florence. 

During the event, U.S. military medical personnel partnered with local Hondurans to serve the local population. 

“The medical readiness exercises represent a good training tool for U.S. military medical personnel,” said Dr. Wilmer Amador, a Honduran dentist and medical liaison with Joint Task Force-Bravo. “But at the same time, they represent a valuable opportunity for the host nation to deliver medical and dental assistance or care in communities that might be underserved.” 

Engagements like these are a “win-win situation for both countries,” he added.

People Everywhere Suffer from Dental Woes 

As with any patient, the medical element personnel saw a variety of issues in Honduras, “from unknown bumps or infections to broken teeth, to small cavities,” said Florence. 

“The wonderful people that I’ve had the privilege to help in Honduras have been typical of others that I’ve helped – they have a need, and we are very pleased to be able to help them,” he said. 

He explained that in this type of environment, they might also perform extractions or refer patients to local dental clinics to get small cavities restored. 

In this case, “we were involved in both treatment of dental pain and infections,” he added. “Also, we highly emphasize teaching children and young people about the best dental brushing and care habits, and how to stay healthy with prevention,” he said. 

This is not new to Florence, who has worked as a civilian and Army dentist in 12 countries. 

“All health care professionals recognize that oral health is truly the ‘gateway’ to our nutrition and overall health,” said Florence. “Keeping most of your teeth, and keeping your oral health is one very important key to long life and overall health.” 

As for the future, he’s hopeful for the broader cadre of services these engagements will be able to provide, such as restorative services. 

“We are testing new equipment in the field that we will be able to utilize in the future,” he said. “To be able to work with, educate, and sometimes treat people is a great privilege.”