Dental work might not always be fun, but it is necessary. However, it can be somewhat difficult to afford without proper insurance. CommWell Health puts its money where your mouth is, providing a mobile unit that travels to different schools across Sampson and Johnston counties to offer some assistance.
The project started in 2014 when the company partnered with the Union school district to provide a portable dental work program. All of the necessary equipment used in a dental office is placed in a u-haul like truck where a dentist and dental hygienist can work out of.
The project soon revealed children who had decayed baby teeth and even mature teeth that were also decayed.
“We would find children who had not been to the dentist at all,” Chris Vann, vice president of Development, stated. “A number of children were unable to receive dental work for various reasons.”
Some parents just couldn’t afford to take the necessary time off to take their kids to the dentist. Then, someone thought of the idea to bring the dentist to the students by bringing a mobile unit to schools.
“We went anywhere we could set up,” Vann added.
The company saw well over 100 students in just a few months. Eventually, the portable program had to be put on pause until Common Health could enact the mobile dental clinic. They decided the mobile dental clinic was the best route to go.
In 2016, CommWell Health got a grant of $350,000 to start the new program. A portion of the money was spent to purchase the mobile unit. Another portion went toward staffing the unit and obtaining the necessary equipment.
“Our mobile unit goes out every day,” Vann stated.
The VP of Development went on to describe the story of a young boy who had an abscess in his mouth who was unable to go to the dentist for treatment. Since it was left untreated, it traveled to his brain and after two surgeries the young boy passed away.
“No child should have to go without dental care,” The VP stated.”Dental health is essential to overall health.”
Vann is proud to say the company has worked hard to ensure something like that never happens again. Another child received a dental mobile unit visit and the team was able to treat the same condition as the deceased child, preventing the same circumstances from repeating.
The director of health services, Paloma Soso states that most people don’t realize the impact that the mobile dental unit has on the community. She went on to explain that the company started the school year with 4,000 packages and now they are down to a single box. The packages are distributed during the beginning of the school year and they contain requests and consent forms for parents to fill out so when the mobile unit stops by the school, their kids can receive dental work.
The targeted schools for the program are elementary and middle schools. The company contacts the schools and visits about three or four schools in a county. The number of schools can increase as needed. Last year, the mobile unit helped around 700 students. There are around 16 to 18 patients seen a day.
“Some students may require more than one visit,” Vann added.
Those students get scheduled for a follow-up visit the next time the bus is in the area. The mobile unit is equipped with a full-time dentist and a full-time dental assistant. The team tries to keep the appointments down to 30-minute intervals to ensure everyone gets a visit; otherwise, everyone wouldn’t be able to receive treatment.
The company has received a grant for $408,000 to purchase another mobile unit within the next year. The second unit is intended for natural disasters, but it will also work in the day-to-day functions of the program.
Currently, the unit is booked until March. The team rotates between the counties depending on the severity of the need in each location.
“Everywhere we go, we are welcomed,” Christina Hill, Kinship Supervisor, stated. “We have a good relationship with the principals.”
So far, the response to the program has been positive. This will be the second year the program has been in place and schools are learning more about the program and what it has to offer. According to the team, teachers have even come out to the mobile unit for a dental visit of their own.
“The priority is the children,” Vann stated. “Our goal is to create a service that has minimal impact on education.”
The crew does not want to interrupt school or take away any class time for the students.
“We want to get the kids back to their studies as soon as possible,” Andrea Morales-Williams, Communications and Marketing Manager expressed.
Vann explained that parents would no longer have to use up the paid time off or their vacation time to take their children to the dentist. Plus, a trip to the dentist involves other costs such as gas or food.
Dental care is provided to children 18 years old and under. If parents don’t have any insurance, the dental bus provides a discounted fee based on family size and income through their EagleCare Slide Fee Scale discount program. The program is becoming increasingly more popular as people learn more about it.
“We want to give kids a smile,” Vann concluded. “We’re happy to provide it.”
Brendaly Vega Davis can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 2588.