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A Jack of All Trades: Nimitz Dental Officer

BREMERTON, Wash. (July 30, 2018) Cmdr. Thomas Hines, the dental officer and maxillofacial surgeon for the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), from Raleigh, N.C., poses for a photograph in a dental exam room in Naval Hospital Bremerton. Nimitz is conducting a docking planned incremental availability at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility where the ship is receiving scheduled maintenance and upgrades. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Michael A. Prusiecki)

Story by Seaman Michael Prusiecki
USS Nimitz (CVN 68)

A native of Raleigh, North Carolina, Hines graduated from Duke University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Science and Policy in 1996. He earned his Doctorate of Dental Surgery from the University of North Carolina in 2000 and privately practiced for two years in his hometown of Raleigh before joining the Navy in 2002.

Hines says that a history of service in his family, along with the upsurge of military service in the aftermath of a national tragedy was his inspiration to join the military.

“My dad was a pilot in Vietnam, and my mom did a tour there in the Red Cross, so my family served before me. Then 9/11 happened and a lot of my friends joined, so I figured I would join and do my part to serve the country in a time of need,” Hines said.

Upon being commissioned through Officer Development School in 2002, Hines attended numerous naval warfare qualification schools and completed his training as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, performing numerous procedures such as wisdom teeth removal and the repair of broken facial and jaw bones. He finished his residency and board certifications in 2013 and has been the dental officer aboard Nimitz since August of 2016.

He says that he finds abundant satisfaction in serving his country as a military surgeon.

“It’s great to have the opportunity to help the people who are out there doing the warfighting. Serving is a lot harder than people realize, and this is an amenity I can give to make life better for Sailors in need,” Hines said. “My respect for everyone who chooses this lifestyle is what motivates me.”

As a dental officer and oral and maxillofacial surgeon, Hines’ typical day is fully packed with both technical and administrative tasks. In port, he spends three days a week performing surgery at Naval Hospital Bremerton and two days a week aboard Nimitz supervising the dental department and performing the administrative and staff duties of a department head.

Working alongside his primary dental technician, Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Dominique Thomas, from Killeen, Texas, Hines is able to successfully practice his skills and improve the oral health of thousands of Sailors.

“It’s a great experience working with him. We’re a well-oiled machine working together and we hit every goal. I set up and break down equipment, schedule patients, take vitals, and do a lot of paperwork, and he does the surgeries and the hard stuff,” said Thomas. “I think people need to have more confidence and trust in military medicine, because he’s personally the best doctor I’ve ever seen. He loves to learn and is constantly trying to better himself, and he’s terrific at what he does.”

However, what sets Hines apart is his plethora of underway qualifications, many of which are uncommon for a medical officer to hold. Out to sea, Hines is qualified as officer of the deck, command duty officer, non-nuclear engineering officer of the watch, and a helicopter control officer. He earned these qualifications by standing countless hours of watch underway on the ship’s bridge, primary flight control, and central control.

His days out to sea are packed full and consist of performing surgeries in the morning, paperwork and other administrative duties in the afternoons, and standing watch or helping out with flight operations in the evenings.

Hines’ mentality of teamwork prompted him to earn these qualifications.

“I wanted to help out as much as possible and contribute to more of the success of the mission. I believe it’s a domino effect that will help everyone out by having more qualified personnel onboard,” he said.

While he feels the massive satisfaction of his job and contributions towards Nimitz’s continued success, there are also challenges that he has had to overcome.

“On top of being exhausted from such a full day, it’s tough from the medical standpoint because dental usually isn’t at the top of the priority list, so you need to have balance and transparency when dealing with the other departments. It’s also pretty difficult to maintain the medical records and health requirements of thousands of people at once,” Hines said.

Despite the obstacles he faces, Hines will continue to serve and make the most out of his military career.

“I’ve already done 16 years and I’ve signed for at least four more. As long as I feel like I’m helping out and the job is interesting to me, I’ll continue to serve,” he said.

Hines feels the role of dentistry is often overlooked, and wants Sailors to know of its importance to the success of the Navy’s mission.

“Many people don’t think of dental as being a critical aspect of warfighting, but it’s quite essential. Dental issues can affect the ships success, and I want to keep people fighting the fight,” he said.

Whether a Sailor needs their wisdom teeth removed, the captain needs a qualified officer of the deck to keep the ship steaming through the oceans, the engineering department needs a watch officer to monitor vital components of the ships interior, or primary flight control needs assistance in launching and recovering helicopters, Cmdr. Hines will be there ready to apply his abilities and proficiency and keep Nimitz ready for battle.

“Remember to always brush and floss, because good oral hygiene is the key to success.”

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