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Navy ship hosts four-month humanitarian mission

Seven nations receive dental, medical care

Military and private practice members invited ADA publication of "incredible results" from a four-month, seven-nation mission involving international dental professionals, faculty and students, pre-dental and allied volunteers.

Under direction of a decorated Navy dentist and recent delegate to the ADA House, Dr. James J. Ware, an international humanitarian team partnered with host nation professionals to "touch" the blind eyes, club feet and cleft palates of some of the hemisphere's "poorest of the poor" with medical, surgical, dental and other health and social services.

Operation Smile, one of many participating private sector organizations, performed 58 cleft lip and palate surgeries in Nicaragua, Capt. Ware said. (More on the organization's Comfort mission is posted on www.operationsmile.org).

"Most of the civilians, both students and professionals, who go on these missions have never been in the military and are amazed and appreciate what the military is doing to foster goodwill throughout the world with these humanitarian missions," said Dr. Irvin Silverstein, who volunteered with his pre-dental student daughter, Sarah, during the April-July mission aboard Military Sealift Command Hospital Ship USNS Comfort.

Dr. David H. Hartzell, a Navy dentist, offered an e-mail report on "Dental Accomplishments from Continuing Promise 2009" and asked the Association to "get the word out to the global dental community" on the mission he served as senior dental officer.

"I've been in combat zones," said Dr. Ware, who directed the mission as hospital CEO on the thousand-bed ship, "the first dentist I'm aware of to direct such a large humanitarian mission. For me, on this mission, it was all about giving. We were all focused on quality care as a team."

Foreign military and civilian dental providers held key roles in the mission, Dr. Hartzell said. They included Canadian dentists and dental assistants, dentists from Colombia, Panama, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and an Antigua Army dental hygienist.

Capt. Ware gave face to the mission with heads of state throughout the hemisphere.

When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited in Haiti, "We were able to share and show this joint international mission in its early days. She was interested. Her reaction was very positive. When prime ministers or presidents came to the ship, they were humbled, they were so appreciative of what we were doing. When the president of Colombia (Alvaro Uribe) left, he hugged me and he had a tear in his eye."

The Navy describes CP09 as a humanitarian and civic assistance mission through Latin America and the Caribbean partnering U.S. military, non-government and host nation volunteers to provide medical, dental, veterinary and engineering services and programs to communities throughout the region. The Comfort departed Naval Station Norfolk April 1 for a four-month deployment in support of Continuing Promise.

"We provided dental services to the host nations of Haiti, Dominican Republic, Antigua and Barbuda, Panama, Colombia, El Salvador and Nicaragua. We were able to treat over 20,000 patients and provided over 40,000 dental procedures with a total dollar value of $2.7 million worth of dentistry," Capt. Hartzell said. "We accomplished these incredible results with the help of personnel from the Air Force, Army, the Reserves and the Public Health Service.

"But that is not all," Dr. Hartzell said. "We had four monthly cycles of 58 dental professionals and pre-dental school students who volunteered their time to come on board and help us with the humanitarian assistance.

"And it doesn't end there," he continued. "Besides government and non-government personnel, we had on our dental team host nation dental providers who assisted the mission. We bridged relationships with our host countries by conducting dental educational partnership exchange programs with each country. We invited host-nation dental students and faculty members to stay overnight for two-day training on the latest dental technologies, techniques and materials, the first time in a military humanitarian mission that we partnered with host nation dental professionals for dental training."

He said 101 dental professionals came on board during the mission; 97 host nation dentists, dental school faculty and students participated in the dental educational exchange program; 32 CEREC crowns were fabricated and delivered; 19 temporary treatment partials provided "new smiles and better self esteem for host nation patients," and 8,167 oral hygiene instructions were provided.

Dr. Silverstein, a private practice periodontist, donates "many hours each week" as the University of California San Diego dental director and adviser of the pre-dental society and clinics project. His daughter Sarah is a third year student in the seven-year dual admissions dental program at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. She worked as a dental assistant and had other dental- and humanitarian-related duties onboard the Comfort, her father said.

Dr. Hartzell, senior dental officer on the USNS Comfort, is stationed at the Naval Post-graduate Dental School in Bethesda, Md. For more news from the Continuing Promise mission visit the official Web site of the U.S. Navy, www.navy.mil/local/cp.

Dr. Ware, a Navy alternate and delegate to the ADA House of Delegates 2005-2008, will host a 4th trustee district caucus Sept 12 aboard the Comfort home-ported in Baltimore "so they can see what this mission was about because 52 dentists engaged with us."