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Dentist keeps airmen in fight against terrorism

OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM (AFPN) -- Capt. Zindell Richardson is "all smiles" because he has the corner on the dental market at this forward-deployed location.

As the only military dentist in this country, the Campbellsville, Ky., native is responsible for providing dental care to thousands of U.S. and coalition warfighters.

"The concept of field dentistry is completely different from any form I've ever done, simply because of the lack of resources available," said Richardson, who is deployed here from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England. "You quickly learn to adapt and overcome any obstacles you face."

Assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Medical Group, Richardson has treated U.S. embassy employees and the Marines who guard them.

One challenge Richardson faces is the absence of a trained dental assistant, critical to the services he performs, he said.

"Our independent duty medical technician, Staff Sgt. Chris Hoar, stepped up and has worked as my assistant on several patients," said Richardson. "He's been a huge help, especially during surgeries that required sedation."

He describes his dental chair as "a modified lawn chair" that can only be positioned to place a patient upright or lying down. About $35,000 in new dental equipment is on order and will likely benefit his replacement, he said.

Richardson has seen about 80 patients a month since arriving here in early June.

He also has trained several U.S. special forces people in field dentistry. "They often find themselves in locations many miles from a dentist, so knowing the basics is important to them," he said.

His patients have not been limited to those with just two legs, either. Richardson recently performed a medical procedure on a military working dog that suffered from an abscessed tooth. The canine was treated with antibiotics and fully recovered.

"I had examined dogs before, but nothing to this extent," he said. "The basic dental concepts and treatment regime are the same. And as always, the patient is a lot more cooperative if sedated."

Richardson said he considers himself fortunate to be deployed here and in a position to have a direct impact on the mission.

"This is a dentist's dream," he said. "I'm serving my country in the war on terrorism by providing care to our armed forces and I'm doing it in a profession I absolutely adore." (Courtesy of U.S. Air Forces in Europe News Service)

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