Dental assistant prevents dental disaster

Senior Airman Alexis Lopez, dental assistant with the 319th Medical Group, currently works at the medical treatment facility on Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. He previously was stationed at Oshawa Air Base, Japan, and hopes to cross-train to become a pararescueman.

Senior Airman Alexis Lopez, dental assistant with the 319th Medical Group, currently works at the medical treatment facility on Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. He previously was stationed at Misawa Air Base, Japan, and hopes to cross-train to become a pararescueman. (U.S. Photo by Airman 1st Class Elora J. Martinez)

Senior Airman Alexis Lopez, dental assistant with the 319th Medical Group, demonstrates proper sanitary procedure by putting on a face mask Sept. 7, 2017, at the medical treatment facility on Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. Lopez said in addition to personal sanitation, there are also multiple steps taken to ensure treatment rooms are sanitary and prepared for patient use.

Senior Airman Alexis Lopez, dental assistant with the 319th Medical Group, demonstrates proper sanitary procedure by putting on a face mask Sept. 7, 2017, at the medical treatment facility on Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. Lopez said in addition to personal sanitation, there are also multiple steps taken to ensure treatment rooms are sanitary and prepared for patient use. (U.S. Photo by Airman 1st Class Elora J. Martinez)

Senior Airman Alexis Lopez, dental assistant with the 319th Medical Group, lays out an array of dental instruments used in routine check-ups and procedures Sept. 7, 2017, at the medical treatment facility on Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. One of the first things dental assistants learn during their training is the proper names and uses of the instruments.

Senior Airman Alexis Lopez, dental assistant with the 319th Medical Group, lays out an array of dental instruments used in routine check-ups and procedures Sept. 7, 2017, at the medical treatment facility on Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. One of the first things dental assistants learn during their training is the proper names and uses of the instruments. (U.S. Photo by Airman 1st Class Elora J. Martinez)

Maj. Jon Federspiel, chief of dental services with the 319th Medical Group, left, and Senior Airman Alexis Lopez, dental assistant with the 319th MDG, right, work together to simulate patient care, Sept. 7, 2017, at the medical treatment facility on Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. During a typical procedure, a dentist and dental assistant work together to help prioritize customer care and treat patients effectively.

Maj. Jon Federspiel, chief of dental services with the 319th Medical Group, left, and Senior Airman Alexis Lopez, dental assistant with the 319th MDG, right, work together to simulate patient care, Sept. 7, 2017, at the medical treatment facility on Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. During a typical procedure, a dentist and dental assistant work together to help prioritize customer care and treat patients effectively. (U.S. Photo by Airman 1st Class Elora J. Martinez)

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. --

“I’m saving the day, one tooth at a time,” Senior Airman Alexis Lopez joked. Lopez, a dental assistant with the 319th Medical Group, was referring to his recent action regarding a fateful moment when he “saved” a patient’s tooth.

 

Prior to anesthetizing a tooth for drilling, about two months ago, Maj. Jon Federspiel, chief of dental services with the 319th MDG, incorrectly identified which tooth to drill. Luckily, Lopez spoke up, correcting the mistake and avoiding irreversible action on the wrong tooth.

Recalling the day, Lopez said it was like any other, and work was going as it usually did. The morning started with the office’s daily huddle and room set-up for the incoming patients.

One of the patients came in for a filling, which requires anesthesia and drilling into the tooth. Lopez was in the room to assist with the procedure along with Federspiel, and a new dental technician being trained by Lopez.  

The procedure was going as planned until Federspiel mistakenly said “alright, ready to anesthetize tooth number 30.” Lopez said it should have been tooth number 31, so he quickly mentioned that to Federspiel, who corrected himself and successfully anesthetized the proper site.

Lopez had never worked with Federspiel before, who only arrived to Grand Forks AFB a few weeks prior.

“I was impressed,” Federspiel said. “He was blind to rank and position in order to say something.”

Federspiel added that the reason he was impressed, was because he’s most familiar with Airmen staying quiet in fear of being reprimanded by higher-ranking enlisted or commissioned Airmen. Lopez, however, didn’t think of himself first in the situation.

“It was a quick decision,” Lopez said. “To me, it was just me doing my job. In the healthcare setting it’s not about us, it’s about the patients.”

Both Lopez and Federspiel said they are glad they avoided undue harm to the patient. Federspiel mentioned that causing a patient harm is pretty much a worst-case scenario in their career field. Every morning, as part of their office huddle, doctors specifically review charts and documents in order to prioritize patient care and create the best possible outcomes by avoiding any accidents.

“He’s very humble,” Federspiel said about Lopez’s attitude towards the incident. “I hope he realizes how important this was.”