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News | Oct. 22, 2020

On the frontlines against COVID: Oral Maxillofacial Surgeon

By Russell Toof

Col. Tom Goksel has been working on service members’ teeth around the world for almost 30 years.

Goksel is an oral maxillofacial surgeon. Oral and maxillofacial surgery is a surgical specialty focusing on reconstructive surgery of the face, facial trauma surgery, the oral cavity, head and neck, mouth, and jaws, as well as facial cosmetic surgery.

Born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey, Goksel came to the U.S. when he was 13. He enlisted into the U.S. Navy right after high school and later became a naturalized citizen. Starting as a hospital corpsman, he transitioned to the Army in 1991 as a dental corps officer.

“I was always interested in healthcare,” said Goksel. “I had a close family friend who was a senior dental school student at the time. He introduced me to what dental providers did and it peaked my interest. I ended up picking oral surgery because of the scope of what it offers.”

Goksel is also currently the commander for Dental Health Activity Rheinland Pfalz. He’s in charge of about 160 Soldiers at eight dental clinics throughout Germany and Belgium.

“I make sure all the support aspects for the clinics are in check and we are delivering high-quality patient care,” he said. “The best part of the job is working day-to-day with our providers out at our clinics so we can help keep troops ready to deploy.”

Conversely, Goksel added that dental injuries is one of the top reasons to medically evacuate a service member from a combat zone.

Whether it’s in a combat zone or not, Goksel said the dental community has seen significant changes due to COVID.

“We’ve had to revamp pretty much everything we do,” he said. “Working that close to someone’s oral cavity and doing procedures that generate aerosols, we’re at a very high risk. We’re now using negative pressure rooms, full face shields, N95 masks, and we’re minimize the use of water during procedures. It’s a very high risk profession.”

Despite the procedural changes because of COVID, Goksel still enjoys the job as much as he did some 30 years ago.

“It’s a profession the covers A-Z and it’s very rewarding,” he said. “It’s instant gratification. Someone comes into our clinics with an issue and by the time they leave, you’ve corrected the issue.”
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