Questionable Dental and Optometry Experiences in the US Army

One of the great things about being in the Army (or any branch of service) is that you get free medical and free dental care.  Most people are probably at least partially aware of that, since in all the old movies you see guys running around with those thick Army glasses.  We used to call those BCGs: Birth Control Glasses, because when you were wearing them you definitely weren’t getting laid.  Thankfully, quite a few years ago now, the Army started issuing thinner, slightly more attractive looking frames that you could pass off as commercial.  I had a pair of those, and I was really happy about them, because it meant I didn’t have to spend my own cash to go to a ‘real’ optometrist to get glasses.  I say ‘real’, because a civilian optometrist is likely to perform better, since they have to work for repeat business.  Two years ago, when I got out of the Army, I had my eyes checked by a civilian optometrist and found out that the prescription I’d been given by a Navy optometrist on Camp Arifjan in Kuwait was wrong, and I’d been wearing the wrong prescription for a year.  How about that for quality service?

So, like I said, you sacrifice something when you wind up with free service, in the military.  That carried over to the dental care as well.  In 2002, I was stationed at Fort Stewart in Georgia, and I noticed some discomfort when I bit down.  It felt like I was biting my own gums in the back.  I’m sure some of you already know where this is going.  I kept putting it off, but then I finally went to the dental facility as a walk-in on a Friday morning.  I was trying to play the system.  I figured I could go there in the morning, instead of PT (Physical Training at 6:15 AM), and then get set up for an appointment that would let me miss some work the following week.  Ya, I wasn’t exactly a motivated soldier at Fort Stewart, but I’ll write more about that another time.  So, I showed up, and after waiting a few hours, doing my best to not fall asleep, which would have caused me to get in some trouble, since even when you’re at dental you’re considered ‘on-duty’, I was finally called in to see a dentist.  It went a little something like this:

“What seems to be the trouble?”

“Well, I’m having some trouble with my gums when I bite down.  It feels like I’m biting them in the back.”

The dentist then took a look around in my mouth and told me, “Well, it looks like your wisdom teeth have partially come in and they’re preventing you from closing your mouth and chewing properly.  You’ll have to have them removed.”

“Oh.”  I was pretty sure that’s what the problem was, but was still hopeful for some other cause that would avoid me having to have my teeth yanked out of my head.  “So, when can I get an appointment to come back in here and have them removed?”

“Oh no.  There’s no need for you to miss more time at work over this.  We’ll just go ahead and remove them now.  ALL of them.”

So much for my weekend.

After having a bunch of needles rammed into my mouth and a call to my supervisor to let him know I was going to need a ride home afterwards, the dentist got settled in and started yanking my teeth out.  It wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it was going to be, until he got to work on the bottom right wisdom tooth.  The pain killer hadn’t been distributed quite right, and while one side of my face felt like wood, I could still feel some stuff going on there, enough for it to be kind of painful.  I tried to mumble through a mouth full of cotton, plastic and metal tools that he should stop because I could still feel it but he wasn’t listening and kept yanking.

Perhaps he was having a bad morning, or was just a vindictive ass, because at that point he said, “I’m having some trouble with this one.  It’s probably going to shatter.  Then we’ll have to cut the rest of it out.  That’s going to take a while and be a lot more complicated.”

The nurse, bless her soul, told him, “Shhh!  You shouldn’t say that!  He can hear you!”

Then he gave one last pull with the pliers and the tooth came out.

My weekend was pretty shot after that.  I don’t remember all of it, but I spent a lot of time in bed, and I must have swallowed a lot of blood from the holes in my gums, because I woke up twice to throw up blood.  It made me wonder just how good a job the guy really did.  Thankfully, I had some Percocet pills to help with the pain.

The following Monday I didn’t have to do PT.  I didn’t have to do PT for a couple of days actually, because I was recovering and I was taking the Percocet.  I remember my supervisor wanted me to do an inspection on a 5 ton tractor trailer that morning, and I had to remind him that I wasn’t supposed to be around any heavy machinery, let alone operating a tractor trailer or climbing up into an engine compartment.  Percocet is some pretty powerful stuff.  There was a girl that was also taking the same pills.  I forget what for.  We spent that morning sitting in the office, taking phone calls and laughing about stuff that wasn’t really funny, but seemed hilarious since we were doped up.

4 thoughts on “Questionable Dental and Optometry Experiences in the US Army”

  1. yeah remember how you were so adamant not to eat at hawkers? then you were shocked to realize that there are some that actually have very good food=) expensive isnt always good. sometimes you have to look around too.


  2. I guess it's just that when you're in the military and you're in a position where you could be sent to a combat zone, where you could die, you at least expect top class medical care.You're right though, about high prices not always equating to high quality.


  3. ive been making excuses not to have my wisdom tooth extracted. after reading this, i dont think i want to have it removed it all. haha some people i know who have had their tooth yanked out say you wont feel a thing, you feel it only after the anesthesia wears off,but some say its like the worst pain in the world. well at least you dont have to worry about yours anymore. as for the freebies that comes as your benefit from being in the army, thats not so bad. sometimes even civilian optometrist makes mistakes. I had my eye checked in Singapore twice, they gave two different eye reading. When I came home here, my Ophthalmologist friend also gave me a different reading so I dont really know what to tell you. I dont think it necessarily translates that a free service can be all that bad. likewise a paid one doesnt mean either that its top of the line.


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