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NEWS | Dec. 11, 2018

Patients inspire prosthodontist at BAMC

By Staff Sgt. Kevin Iinuma 59th Medical Wing Public Affairs

In the Brooke Army Medical Center Dental Surgery Clinic, maxillofacial prosthodontists and technicians serve many patients per month and perform procedures each work day. 

Maxillofacial prosthetic is a subspecialty of prosthodontics and is the only subspecialty recognized by the American Dental Association. There are currently 14 maxillofacial prosthetic fellowship programs in the world, and seven are within the United States; two are federal programs with the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy. 

“I’ve found a home,” said Lt. Col. Young J. Honnlee, 59th Medical Wing provider. “The specialty improves quality of life by restoring or replacing oral and associated maxillofacial structures with artificial substitutes such as silicone prostheses, acrylic prostheses, metal frameworks and a combination of all the materials.”

For the first 20 of Honnlee’s nearly 30 years of service, he worked as a general dentist, but fell in love with prosthodontics as soon as he discovered the specialty and has remained so to this day. 

One patient he remembered had cancer in her tongue during his residency. Honnlee and his team conducted a palatal augmentation procedure for the patient who had cancer in her tongue, enabling her tongue to reach the roof of her mouth. The patient wept for joy when she heard herself speak for the first time in years.

“We have great patients to work with because they are really appreciative, and they truly appreciate the service we provide,” Honnlee said. “I wouldn’t trade anything for these patients.”

Honnlee has seen more than 275 patients, performed nearly 600 procedures and many lab procedures in his time as a maxillofacial prosthodontist. 

“I’m here seeing the providers because of a tragic event in my life,” said retired Air Force Staff Sgt. Luis Corral, who is a patient. “They really are working to help make my life better.”

Due to a life-changing event, Corral received severe injuries to the lower half of his face and left eye. With several surgeries, therapy and the help from maxillofacial prosthodontists, he is now able to move his jaw and speak.

Maxillofacial prosthodontists work with providers in a variety of medical disciplines such as oncologists, radiologists, dermatologists, and others to provide the best care for their patients. 

In the past, providers would hand-craft prosthetics for patients. However, they now take advantage of modern 3-D printing techniques. The processes that used to take weeks are now cut down to days. 

“I can only imagine what the patients have gone through,” Honnlee said. “But their attitude is so bright, it makes me want to be like them, be more motivated, and have a better outlook on life.”