Science & Tech

Bad dental health could affect military readiness

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Public Health student uses military data to investigate oral health problems

Phillip Dexter Woods is a dentist and an Army reservist. Until he graduated in June 2002, Woods was also a student in a master’s program at the Harvard School of Public Health. As a student, Woods was particularly interested in studying the dental health of Army recruits and their resulting availability for deployment. What he found troubled him. An oral health survey of military recruits conducted by the Department of Defense in 2000 indicated that an increasing number of recruits were coming to the service with oral health problems, while the number of practicing military dentists was decreasing. From that perspective, oral health can be seen as a national security issue, Woods said. “Dental health is taken seriously by the Army because a soldier who is in the field, in pain, and nowhere near a dentist will be distracted and less focused,” said Woods. “His or her effectiveness will be compromised.”