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UB Dental School, in Pilot Project with U.S. Army, Offers Priority Dental Care to Reserve Units On-Alert

First of its kind, collaboration may become a model for Reserve units across U.S.

By Lois Baker

Release Date: June 6, 2002

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- If the men and women of the U.S. Army's 402nd Civil Affairs Battalion depart for their next trouble spot with toothaches, it will be through no fault of the School of Dental Medicine at the University at Buffalo.

The UB dental school is offering first-priority, at-cost dental services to the soldiers in the Tonawanda-based unit as it prepares for possible mobilization. The collaboration is the first such between a dental school and an Army Reserve special operations unit, and, if successful, could be used as a model for dental support to Reserve battalions across the country.

"Medical, and especially dental, problems are the No. 1 deployment stopper," said Major Timothy Zack, training and operations officer for the 402nd. "When soldiers in this unit are deployed, there isn't time to set up a dental appointment. If they have a bad tooth, it gets pulled, because there is seldom time to get it treated. Our soldiers must be in the best possible health because they could be on-duty for many months. That's why this program is important."

Soldiers in Civil Affairs battalions, 96 percent of whom are reservists, have a unique mission. They are the Army's on-site non-combat experts: civil and electrical engineers, doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, immigration officers, masons, computer specialists, community liaisons and emergency management specialists.

Deployed as small multidisciplinary teams, air-dropped if necessary, they work with civil authorities and civilian populations in the commander's area of operation to lessen the impact of military operations and provide aid to the population.

Armed with laptops, they can identify food, clothing and shelter needs of the citizenry quickly and systematically. They also support national assistance activities, plan and execute non-combatant evacuations, act as liaison with aid agencies and commercial and private organizations, locate civil resources to support military operations and help minimize civilian interference with operations.

"We are military diplomats," said Zack. "Our soldiers must be better educated, in better physical shape and more mature than the average soldier because of the requirements and sensitive nature of the missions we participate in."

Most of the soldiers in the 402nd are in college, have either an undergraduate or advanced degree and are trained computers specialists. Zack holds a master's degree in geopolitics from the UB. The unit's 144 soldiers speak 10 languages among them and have served in 20 different countries, including Bosnia, Haiti, Somalia and Rwanda, as well as in Desert Storm.

Getting the UB dental school involved with the 402nd. was the idea of Alan Laville, a UB German and Spanish major and staff sergeant in the unit. Interested in becoming a dentist, he got a work-study job in the dental school's Department of Periodontology. Laville brought his unit's situation to the attention of Sebastian Cianco, D.D.S., the department chair, and Ciancio endorsed the project.

Working with Zack, Laville put together a PowerPoint presentation, briefed his unit and, when the project was approved by all parties, functioned as the liaison between UB and the 402nd. Maureen Donley, D.D.S., UB clinical assistant professor of restorative dentistry, is supervising the pilot program, which currently is providing dental care for 10-12 soldiers. The makers of Listerine mouthwash and of Total toothpaste, brushes and floss are donating products to the project.

"We expect 25-30 soldiers ultimately to take advantage of this opportunity," Zack said. "Soldiers who may have dental problems need to have quality work done now, because they can't count on getting a quick dental appointment if we are mobilized. The dental school is giving priority to our soldiers over their other patients. We have nothing but praise for the project."