According to James Knight, dentist screenings remain essential, and mobile dentistry is becoming a more common avenue for connecting dental professionals and clients.
“A dental practice can do more to reach their clients than just a six-month reminder call,” says James Knight, dentist in the Midwest. “It’s a win-win, taking services on the road.”
Patients and practices alike gain with mobile dentistry options. Bringing state-of-art equipment that can be set up in minutes in familiar surroundings is not new, but bringing back the house call is.
Early Mobile Service
There have been several versions of mobile dental visits over the years. Years ago there were annual screenings in elementary schools. There was no equipment, just the dental professional and the hygienist.
Students were given a red tablets made of harmless dye, which, according to the American Dental Association, mixed with saliva. After rinsing, the dye would reveal the plaque that was not removed during brushing. It was a perfect time to introduce the habit of flossing to the eager Second Graders who’d just brushed their teeth. This practice continues today in some states.
This mobile service was designed to introduce the concept of dental care to children at an early age. Untreated dental problems can lead to other health issues later in life. This mobile service was the first time many of the kids were exposed to professional dental care.
Dental care for those who live in a dental desert often requires long trips to an office. The term “dental desert” describes areas that are generally rural and are not seen as populated enough for a dental practice to thrive. These places are frequently some of the poorest places in America, and those living there often have no basic health insurance, let alone insurance for dental work.
This gap in dental health is often paid for by philanthropic projects. For example, the Missouri Elks use a dental van to bring services to those who need it most via a 33-foot mobile office. The service is offered to children and adults who have developmental or intellectual disabilities.
The service is also available to individuals and families who are in extreme financial distress and have found it impossible to receive dental care anywhere else. There are a limited number of appointments available and individuals must be referred by the local Elk's Lodge.
The Ostrow School of Dentistry at the University of Southern California provides dental care through the school’s innovative work in mobile dentistry. The school’s mobile efforts deliver various dental services to individuals from Bakersfield to the Mexican border. Their mobile dental clinics offer invaluable services, free of charge, in both rural and urban areas, to those who otherwise would go without.
“Mobile dentistry first started as a way to reach patients who didn’t have access to local services,” says James Knight. “Dentists’ priorities tend to hinge on outreach. The concept has now expanded to include urban areas and offer service both for low-income clients and people who are stretched for time.”
Inner City Service
Neighborhood mobile clinics like the one dedicated to improving oral health of inner-city children are staffed by dental hygiene students. Many of the children visited by these mobile clinics have never seen a dentist before.
The Los Angeles Unified School District recently reported that dental pain is the number one reason given by children for missing school. Every year in the Los Angeles area alone, over 50,000 children visit a school nurse because of dental problems. Visits from mobile services are often the only form of dentistry these students have access to.
For many people, a visit to the dentist isn’t about money. It is about finding the time. With all of the obligations of work, family and community, many just can’t seem to schedule regular dental care into their busy days. This can lead to employees missing time when their dental problems become severe.
Some innovative companies have come up with a way to help their employees with their dental health. On the first and third Mondays of every month, employees at the tech company Nvidia see a familiar site: a massive white van pulling into their parking lot.
The van is a mobile dental office equipped with periodontal probes, dental drills and tongue retractors.
“It’s just like a regular dentist, but in an RV,” says Hector Marinez, an employee in the firm’s communications department who uses the service. “You go in between meetings and get what you need done.”
This could include everything from a cleaning to a root canal.
“Mobile dentistry is growing as more people discover the ease and professional care the service provides,” says James Knight, dentist in Iowa, who has seen more dental pros use tech to reach clients. “For an employer it is a service that can help attract and keep good employees.”
Over the years mobile dental service has evolved from being the first contact for some students to a high tech full spectrum place for busy professionals.
Says James Knight, dentist with his eye on next-generation dental care: “What was once a novelty is fast becoming a standard practice.”