“Filling” in the role: Eielson’s sole dental hygienist does it all

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Carson Jeney
  • 354th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron

Dental hygiene is an important pillar to one’s health and many individuals may not realize how pertinent it is. To U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Victoria Castaneda, Eielson’s sole Active Duty registered dental hygienist, the most fulfilling part of her job is helping patients achieve results.

“Many of the patients that I see are brand new Airmen who have had very inconsistent dental care prior to joining the Air Force,” Castaneda said. “I love seeing the ‘lightbulb’ go off for my patients and when they start taking their dental health seriously.”

Being the sole Active Duty RDH in interior Alaska, Castaneda is responsible for the dental health of all Active Duty Airmen and Guardians on Eielson and Clear Space Force Station which equates to around 3,200 service members.

“Castaneda does not miss a beat in her role as an RDH,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Tann Jones, 354th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron dental flight commander. “She has filled a void that the Eielson dental clinic and patients have felt since before COVID-19. I have many patients that express how fantastic their hygiene appointment has gone with her. They are so glad she is here and treating them.”

Castaneda began her career as a dental hygienist after graduating dental hygiene school in 2020.

“I was originally a dental assistant and in 2017 I applied for the Air Force Dental Hygiene Training Scholarship Program,” Castaneda said. “After I completed all of my prerequisites, I started the program in 2018.”

Through her work as an RDH, Castaneda has learned valuable lessons from patients she’s treated and broadened her perspective on how to help them.

“A key thing I’ve learned is compassion and grace,” Castaneda said. “Many patients simply don’t know basic dental care because they’ve never been taught. Sometimes people are in dark places mentally, and self-care is not on their list of priorities. It’s my job to try to motivate and educate them.“

Not only does Castaneda excel in her sole role, but she also excels in additional duties and improves the 354th Medical Group.

“Castaneda has taken on many roles at the MDG level and fills in routinely as the dental flight chief as she takes care of enlisted and officers alike and keeps the business of the dental clinic rolling in a positive direction,” Jones said. “She also fills in occasionally as first sergeant.”

At the end of the day, Castaneda says she cares about helping people and bettering their lives.

“I have a special place in my heart for humanitarian missions,” Castaneda said. “My most recent one was a temporary duty with the Army to Saipan. It is so rewarding to treat patients who have little to no access to health care. Many times, it is life changing for them and I’m always proud to be a part of that.”

Since the second week of April is recognized as Dental Hygienist Appreciation Week, Castaneda urges Airmen and Guardians to educate themselves on the importance of dental health.

"Our oral health affects our overall systemic health,” Castaneda said. “Many diseases and conditions manifest in the mouth and can be exacerbated by oral disease. Take your dental health seriously- you only get one set of teeth!”