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Forty-eight military retirees and dependents were given dental examinations, an assessment of their dental health and a treatment plan by the Air Force 579th Dental Squadron.

The exams, conducted at the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB) Clinic, are part of an annual program that began 21 years ago.

The program benefits more than just the patients, it also provides training and opportunity for some of the Air Force’s newest doctors of dentistry.

“It’s been fantastic. It gives the retirees an opportunity to get a peek at their dental needs,”said retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Chuck Lucas, a staff member of JBAB’s retiree office.

“We have this exam process, which we do yearly to screen some potential patients for new residents who come in,” said Air Force Col. Jeffery Denton, residency director for the 579th Dental Squadron at JBAB and the 779th Dental Squadron at Joint Base Andrews.

“The residents are here for a year of general dentistry training. They recently graduated dental school and they come onto active duty and they spend a year here doing their training. From here they go on to other Air Force bases.”

Originally the program serviced only Air Force retirees, but years later it opened more broadly to retirees of all branches. Today the program also includes the dependents of these retirees.

Each year the process begins by getting the word out to retirees through newsletters and word of mouth.

Air Force Col. George Noory, a Alexandria, Va. resident who retired in 1985 with 30 years of combined service on active duty and in the reserves, has been coming to this free annual check-up for 20 years. This year 96 retirees or retiree dependents made appointments to get an exam.

The residency program splits the patients evenly between the clinics at JBAB and Joint Base Andrews. Each patient’s visit begin with a panoramic X-ray followed up by a complete examination with a fully qualified dentist who provided each patient with an assessment of his or her dental health and needs.

“And then it’s sort of like a lottery,” said Lucas. “After the dental staff meets in September, they pick the cases that best fit the training needs of the Air Force dental residents. So it could be eight or nine, or 10 or 12 of the 96 who get treatment. In the meantime, all of the participants had a complete exam so they know what their dental situation is.”

The patients who are asked to come back for treatment will be treated in late-September or October by a one of the incoming dental residents.

Most of the residents’ training is centered on the active duty population, but the retiree population provides a supplement to the residents’ experience.

“With the retirees we will typically look for something like a root canal or restorative type things, crowns, bridges,” said Denton who conducted many of the patient exams at JBAB.

Noory, who received a clean bill of dental health from Denton said of the program, “It’s a great opportunity. It’s a godsend for a lot of retirees. Take advantage of what the military offers to you. I look forward to it and a lot of other friends of mine do too.”

Retired Navy Chief Hospital Corpsman John Bratham, a former dental X-ray technician himself, learned of the program by word of mouth from a neighbor who is the wife of a retired Army sergeant major.

“She called and told us that they were having a program where retirees could apply for treatment at both Andrews and [Joint Base Anacostia]-Bolling and they took us right in and gave us an appointment. We were really excited,” said Bratham.

Bratham said news of the program was a good surprise since he’s felt that benefits have been eroding.

“To have this come fourth is a blessing,” Bratham said. “I have Delta Dental which I pay for each month. I have a private dentist in Waldorf who takes very good care of me. But the fact of the matter is there is payment involved. So to be able to get this through the military is a godsend for me. Any time I can get benefits through the military I’m excited because as I tell folks I’ve paid for it already. Some say, ‘You’re looking for something free.’ It’s not free. I’ve paid with my 20 years of service. So I’m excited that this is available to the military retirees.”