Dental Readiness and Oral Fitness

Last Updated: January 10, 2023
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​​​​Dental Readiness and Oral Fitness are essential for unit readiness.

Can't Bite, Can't Fight

Dental disease is one of the most common causes of disease and non-battle injuries during deployments. Service Members (SM) with uncorrected, severe dental deficiencies are more likely to experience a dental emergency within one year. 

Lessons learned: 

  • ​​Little time is available for treatment of dental emergencies during mobilization and deployment operations. 
  • High levels of dental readiness and dental preparedness reduce mobilization dental processing and treatment time. 
  • Three to five days is the average length of time a SM is lost to their unit when they are evacuated for dental emergencies.

To ensure our forces are medical ready to deploy, the Department of Defense (DoD) requires annual dental exams of all SMs to detect cavities, gum disease, and other oral health problems early. Dentists use these exams to educate individuals on the best ways to keep teeth and gums healthy. Dentists also must assign a SM’s dental readiness status, based on the DoD Oral Health and Readiness Classification System.


The DoD Oral Health and Readiness Classification System

SMs are assigned one of four dental readiness categories based on a dentist's best judgment of the likelihood the patient will experience a dental emergency during a deployment. 

  • Class 1: SM has a current dental exam and requires no additional treatment or re-evaluation. Class 1 SMs are medically ready to deploy
  • Class 2: SM has a current dental exam and requires non-urgent dental treatment or re-evaluation for oral conditions which are unlikely to result in a dental emergency within one year. Class 2 treatment needs include, but are not limited to the following: dental cleanings, periodontal maintenance, treatment for minor cavities or minor fractured teeth, active orthodontic treatment, temporomandibular disorders (TMDs) in remission, etc. Class 2 SMs are medically ready to deploy
  • Class 3: SM requires urgent or emergency dental treatment. The individual is more likely to experience a dental emergency within one year. Class 3 treatment needs include, but are not limited to the following: moderate to large cavities/tooth fractures, fractured fillings that cannot be maintained by patient, uncontrolled gum disease, abscessed teeth, teeth that require root canals, lesions requiring biopsy, etc. Commanders will ensure that SMs receive all appropriate dental care to correct deficiencies to their individual dental readiness. Class 3 SMs are NOT medically ready to deploy.
  • Class 4: SM is delinquent and requires dental exam or the dental classification status is unknown. Commands should make every effort to get SMs an exam. Class 4 SMs are NOT medically ready to deploy.


Image of 4 Soldiers walking through staging warehouse


​Who has the most control over a Service Member's dental readiness

Even though commanders, the dental care system, and SMs share responsibility for dental readiness, the SM is ultimately responsible for keeping their dental readiness status current. Practicing good oral hygiene habits and maintaining current dental exams help to ensure that SMs stay deployment ready. 


​Who has the most control over a Service Member's oral health

The SM has control. Furthermore, lifestyle changes in deployment environments, including poor oral hygiene, unhealthy diet, consumption of energy drinks, or tobacco use, can create dental problems. 


Oral diseases can cause: 

  • Impaired duty performance 
  • Work loss 
  • Restricted activity 
  • Difficulty eating 
  • Trouble pronouncing words 
  • Inability to sleep 
  • Excruciating pain

Are you at risk for tooth decay? Find out if you are at high risk for tooth decay with this Decay Risk Self-Check