Many dentists have options as to where they can practice after dental school. While many of my classmates chose to pursue specialty training or jumped right into private practice, a few of us chose to start our journey as military dentists.

With Armed Forces Day on May 16, it's time to recognize military dental corps members and the many dental professionals who've served their country. Let's all keep it in mind as we consider the veterans in our families, offices and communities.

The U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force each have Dental Corps, which consist of general dentists and specialists devoted to treating our service members. During dental school, I signed up to join the Army Dental Corps and prepared for an adventurous few years of dentistry.

My Army colleagues and I attended basic training. It was an experience unlike anything most dentists could imagine. Over the course of six jam-packed weeks, we learned everything from simple concepts like rank structure and marching to more intense hands-on skills like rifle marksmanship. One of the highlights was getting the opportunity to ride in a Blackhawk helicopter during a simulated medevac drill.

U.S. Army Drs. Mary Hamilton, Andy Janiga, Kevin Goles and Chase Wootton at the completion of the Combat Casualty Care Course
(From left) U.S. Army Drs. Mary Hamilton, Andy Janiga, Kevin Goles and Chase Wootton at the completion of the Combat Casualty Care Course.

Upon completion of basic training, I began an Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) program with the Army. The education and experiences of the program exceeded anything most of us could have imagined. Every day we had the opportunity to work with service members from all over the world, helping with their oral health so they can defend our nation.

In the program, my colleagues and I learned from exceptional mentors who taught us the nuances of diagnosing and treating complex cases. One of those mentors eventually sparked my interest in dental continuing education and guided me to Spear.

SPEAR PRACTICE SOLUTIONS: Dr. Jennifer Kirwan, a former U.S. Army dentist based in Kansas, credits Spear Practice Solutions with giving her team a business framework, coaching and real-time analytics to set her practice up for the future.

One of the highlights of the program was our participation in the Combat Casualty Care Course. Over the course of a week, we teamed up with our colleagues in the Air Force and Navy to learn how to perform non-dental care under fire.

The most thrilling parts of the course involved the drills of simulated missions, storming into buildings, and entering mock villages to help respond to medical emergencies in combat conditions. It was an experience that I would have never imagined partaking in as a dentist prior to joining the service.

After we finished, my co-residents and I were assigned to different bases across the globe. I ended up at a clinic where most of our care consisted of performing caries management and triage care on young adult patients. At first this unique experience was a very challenging task, but in the end, it was a great learning experience that helped me effectively save teeth on our younger soldiers.

As I finish with the Army and transition into private practice, I'm grateful for the unique experiences I had and the friends I made while practicing in the military. After multiple moves, traveling back and forth across the country, it's truly an experience unlike anything I ever could have imagined and is something I will never forget.

This Armed Forces Day, I encourage you to reach out to a colleague who practiced in the service and thank them for their efforts to support our military members.

Andy Janiga, D.M.D., is a contributor to Spear Digest. The opinions reflected in this article are Dr. Janiga's and do not specifically reflect those of the U.S. Army or Department of Defense.