Combat Gum

I found this old piece on the New Yorker website:

Hale predicts that combat gum could save the military a hundred million dollars annually. Dental emergencies account for ten per cent of all injuries that cause soldiers to be evacuated from the battlefield (not counting battle itself, of course). There are forty-seven types of dental emergencies, ranging from the mildly uncomfortable (gingivitis, say), moderately painful (pericoronitis), and severe (totally avulsed tooth). When it gets that bad, a soldier might need to be helicoptered into a dental theatre on another continent. The cost of transportation, plus that of the treatment itself, on top of the unit’s lost manpower, adds up to tens of millions of dollars each year. According to Hale, forty per cent of recruits have at least three cavities. “They have developed a decay pattern,” he said. “We diagnose, pull their teeth, and fill them. This is a constant thing for us, because we have tremendous turnover.”

This is the sort of thing that would have automatically prompted me to write a post, had I seen it back in March of 2014. I had occasion to see dentists in the Army, and I can't remember any bad experiences. I even had my wisdom teeth taken out while stationed in San Antonio, Texas. I was regular Army, and I was referred to the Air Force hospital for removal.

It took a week for me to feel normal after that because I had waited until I was about 30 to do the wisdom tooth extractions. I had all four of them out at once. No fun.

What is referenced in the article gets to the heart of a problem for deploying soldiers. We had categories for everyone, and I seem to recall that they ran from Cat I to Cat IV. If you were a one or a two, you could be deployed. That meant that you had seen a dentist and didn't have any issues. If you were a Cat III or IV, you couldn't deploy. Typically that meant that you hadn't been to the dentist in a while or that you had outstanding issues, like root canal work that needed to be done.

I always went to the dentist. It was free and it wasn't that bad. If they can give you a gum that will keep your teeth in your head, sell it to the civilian world and make money. Precious few innovations come to soldiers nowadays. The last big innovation was the Camelback drinking system. Gum that kills bacteria and prevents tooth loss? We should give that to everyone.