News and Events

Practicing Dentistry on the Frontline

Dan O’Neill ’81 stands in front of a mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle, or MRAP, in Afghanistan.

October  18, 2010

If you graduated from dental school three decades ago, you might be at the point in your career where you're starting to think about taking things a little easier and even looking ahead to retirement. On the other hand, if you're Dan O'Neill '81, you might find yourself in Afghanistan treating the men and women of the U.S. and coalition forces, including Bulgarian, Canadian, British, Spanish and French soldiers, as well as contractors.

After graduation, O'Neill took the Canadian boards and practiced in Canada for a year before turning to his hometown of Butte to start a private practice. He joined the Montana Army National Guard in 2008, after being informed that the Army Dental Corps was at a little more than 50% strength. It was a patriotic and adventurous opportunity for him. He received most of his Army soldier and medical training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas and Fort Harrison, Montana. However, there were also visits to Fort Lewis, Washington and Fort Benning, Georgia.

The most inspiring benefit for O'Neill has been meeting and treating U.S. service men and women in all branches — Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, especially those at Camp Phoenix, Afghanistan. He has also volunteered to give a one-hour course on dental emergencies to all the medics and staff at the troop medical clinic (or TMC). His most interesting case, however, was not human. Recently he did an endodontic procedure on the canine... of a canine. One of the dogs belonging to the Special Forces had broken a canine, with a pulpal exposure. "The veterinarian on post had files 60/80 mm in length and paper points, but had never performed an endodontic procedure.  So, with a little custom roll of Gutta Percha, utilizing techniques refined at Pacific's Endodontic Extravaganza this year, we completed the dental procedure in one visit," O'Neill explains. "This was not in my job description when I signed up with the Army!"

O'Neill with UOP flag

O'Neill shows his Pacific spirit.

"It has been a terrific experience for me in a lot of little ways," says O'Neill. Not that his service in Afghanistan isn't also nerve-wracking at times. "We have not received mortar or rocket attacks here at Camp Phoenix since I've been here, [but] some of our sister camps have on occasion."

O'Neill currently remains in private practice and has a locum tenens dentist, retired from the Navy, covering the practice during his deployment. Future plans include attending the dental school's annual Alumni Meeting and 30-year Class Reunion in March 2011 in San Francisco. No doubt he will have more interesting tales to tell!

"I would urge my fellow dentists to consider joining a service branch, in an Active Duty, Reserve, or National Guard role," O'Neill concludes. "The benefits, experiences and responsibilities are truly remarkable. And the medical providers I have been privileged to work with inspired me with their compassion and professionalism."

Category Type: Alumni

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