Honor Awards: Former Military Hygienist Serves Her Country, Fellow Airmen, and Those Transitioning to Civilian Life

U.S. Air Force airman and dental flight chief Tina Prince, RDH, MA

Tina Prince, RDH, MA, remembers when she retired from the military.

“The military is very different from the civilian world, and I was lost when I transitioned,” she said. “I had to prepare myself for interviews, transfer my [dental hygiene] license, write a resume, understand billing, various dental software, and how to navigate the civilian dental world in general.”

Her continuous work in helping former members of the military land safely and effectively in American dentistry is one reason Tina is honored as a recipient of the 2023 Today’s RDH Honor Award.

Tina enlisted in 2001 to ”establish my independence, seek educational opportunities, and serve.” She started as a dental assistant in dental specialty programs. She then participated in the Air Force’s Dental Health Profession Scholarship program, earning her dental hygiene degree in 2011 from St. Petersburg College in Florida.

She eventually became director of the preventive dentistry program at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. Her role was as an airman in the Air Force and dental flight chief.

She said, ”This position involved a substantial community-based program involving oral health education, such as tobacco cessation programs and counseling, OB/GYN maternal education, water fluoridation monitoring, and school-based dental programs aimed at reducing dental caries.”

Just as important, the dental operations, which had 64 members at the base, helped ensure that airmen could be deployed.

”The goal is to keep airmen free of dental pain with an extremely low probability of requiring urgent dental treatment, including root canals, extractions, active orthodontic treatment, or caries,” she explained. ”I was responsible for monitoring and correcting trends related to high caries to prevent incidents that may prevent military members from being mission-ready. We monitored caries levels and promoted fluoride and sealants to members at risk for caries development.”

Prince recalls that the biggest challenge overseeing the base’s dental operations was preparing for Health Services Inspections, which she compared to the accreditation process completed by dental hygiene programs.

”As a unit, I will mention that we received an ’Outstanding’ rating each time,” she said.

In a January 2023 interview with Today’s RDH, Tina estimated that during her final three years, the dental squadron treated 7,000 active-duty personnel, and she personally performed 4,500 dental hygiene procedures.

Tina retired from the Air Force in 2018 and remained in Maryland, living near the District of Columbia.

She said, “I am proud of the many members I was able to mentor, including dental assistants, those who aspired to be dental hygienists, and the many patients I was able to educate and treat to ensure they were ready to deploy and serve the country as needed.”

Tina adds, “I helped hygienists and other enlisted members who transitioned out of the military to navigate the civilian sector by sharing the knowledge I obtained during my transition.” She feels her guidance “helped alleviate some stress and anxiety” among her peers wishing to continue a career in dentistry.

After retirement, she briefly taught at a dental hygiene program and continues to participate in local community health fairs and mentor those transitioning from the military to the civilian dental field.

Tina currently conducts lunch-and-learns for a dental manufacturer. However, her goal is to become a continuing education provider. She wants to lecture on dental ethics to “help maintain who we are as professionals, not only for ourselves but also for those we treat and who put their trust in our care.”

Tina is also in the process of coordinating regular oral hygiene education for caretakers of residents of local veterans’ homes to ensure that they can receive proper dental care when it comes to brushing, interdental cleaning, and overall dental health.

A big thank you to Dentsply Sirona, Designs for Vision, and LM-Dental for their support of the Honor Awards and providing equipment to the recipients!