Graduates of the Advanced Education in General Dentistry program pose after graduation held at Magruder Chapel on post, July 14.

Graduates prepare for assignments as Army’s newest dentists

By Emily Hileman, Fort Jackson Public Affairs

Eight Army captains braced themselves for their futures as they graduated the Advanced Education in General Dentistry program at Fort Jackson, July 14. The one-year American Dental Association-accredited program provides professional education at the post-doctoral level and is under the supervision of the Office of the Surgeon General.

The Office of the Surgeon General approved the Army Dental Intern Program in 1946 and training began in July 1947. Over the course of 35 years, the Advanced Education in General Dentistry program was developed and the first AEGD program took place at Fort Carson, Colorado in May 1981.

Forty years later, there are six programs located at Fort Moore, Georgia (previously Fort Benning); Fort Carson, Colorado; Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington; Fort Sill, Oklahoma; and Fort Jackson.

“This year has been very demanding in many ways,” said Lt. Col. Brandon Gage, comprehensive dentist and AEGD program director. “These residents came straight from dental school and were thrown into a level of patient care that is beyond what they experienced there. They’re also navigating the intricacies of being a brand new dental officer.”

Gage was not just the program director, but he also mentored the young professionals along with Maj. Joshua Gonzalez, comprehensive dentist and AEGD program assistant director; Dr. Richard Nichols, periodontist and chairman of the education committee; Maj. April Bumpers, periodontist; Lt. Col. Zachary Highberger, oral and maxillofacial surgeon; Lt. Col. Drew Krena, prosthodontist; Lt. Col. Ryan Swiss, endodontist; Lt. Col. Dawnyetta Hixson, oral and maxillofacial pathology and Capt. Aaron Gringer, comprehensive dentist and brother to one of the graduates, Capt. Casey Gringer.

“As you graduate after a year’s long and intense program that you put such hard work into this year, studying for exams, learning and honing your skills, learning new advanced clinical skills that are going to make you the best dentist that the Army needs,” said Col. Susan M. Cebula, Dental Activity – Fort Jackson commander.

Col. Stephen Tanner, the 29th Chief of the Dental Corps was present and spoke as the guest speaker for the graduation. Tanner graduated from the University of Southern California School of Dentistry in 1993 and com¬pleted the same program at Fort Campbell, Kentucky in 1994. An accomplished and decorated Army dentist, he was still privileged and honored to speak to the new graduates about the importance of their positions for Army readiness.

“Our nation and Soldiers and their Family and friends require us to be the best, to be our best,” he said. “Losing a teammate due to a dental issue affects not only the Soldier, but his team. It reduces combat power. Dental mission is a key component to the medical readiness that fights and wins our nation’s wars.”

Each graduate will proceed to their new duty station, poised and ready to tackle the unique dental challenges of their patients, thanks to the training, education and mentorship they received during the year-long AEGD program at Fort Jackson.

“As you’ve heard, the residents, throughout their academic year, have an extreme amount of pressure placed upon them,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Swiss, endodontist and AEGD mentor. “They spend a lot of time worrying about procedures and materials and part of that is learning about the research that goes into those.”

One of the culminating events of the program was the Table Clinic Presentation that required the residents to research and present information on a dental procedure or material. “What they may, or many have not known is that their table clinic was being judged,” Swiss said.

Capt. Andrew Jefferson was the recipient of The Best Table Clinic Presentation award.

Jefferson’s research was based on the difference between two primary restorative techniques, Bioclear versus traditional Class II composite restorations.

“The easiest way to think about it is you have bricks and mortar versus two by fours and nails,” said Jefferson. “They’re different materials and so they need to be handled differently.” Jefferson compared the different procedures and highlighted the best practice for dental restoration to prevent fractured teeth and decay.

“Coming out of dental school, we each have a rudimentary knowledge of General Dentistry,” Jefferson said. “Depending on your program, you get a little more exposure to some of the more complex aspects of the industry.”

However, during the course of the residency with the AEGD program, they’re able to get more exposure to in-depth procedures such as molar root canals and implants. “It’s literally feeling like you’re being fed by fire hose ad a lot of trial by fire, but it’s been a great program and I’ve definitely learned a lot over the course of this past year,” he said.

Jefferson is no stranger to Army training and Fort Jackson as he attended Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson in 2010.

As a reservist, Jefferson enlisted as a 68E – Dental Specialist. Although he joined on a whim, as he said, it was a life changing decision for the young enlistee, at the time.

“During my training, I learned about the various scholarship programs for dental school and I really found my love for the field of dentistry,” he said. “So, that was the moment where I was like, ‘This is something worth pursuing.’”

He went on to earn the rank of sergeant in the Army Reserve prior to beginning dental school. He completed his undergraduate degree in Nutritional Science at Brigham Young University and his Doctorate in Medicine of Dentistry at Roseman University of Health Services in South Jordan, Utah.

“As part of the scholarship program that the Army has for dental school, they have the requirement of applying for the one-year residency,” he said. “When I saw Fort Jackson on the list, it seemed like a good opportunity to come full circle and return to where my Army career started.”

Graduates were Capts. Cody Buhler (whose next assignment is Dental Activity located at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri); Daniella DeLaCruz (257th Medical Company Dental Area Support – Fort Liberty, formerly Fort Bragg, North Carolina); Kyle Duffee (DENTAC – Fort Carson, Colorado); Casey Gringer (DENTAC – Pentagon); Andrew Jefferson (DENTAC – Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington); Blakely McCormick (DENTAC – Fort Novosel, formerly Fort Rucker, Alabama; Sara Oleson (673rd Medical Brigade – Fort Carson); and Brandi Schoenthaler (1st Infantry Division Brigade Support – Fort Riley, Kansas).