08/30/14 — Dental program expands with mobile unit

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Dental program expands with mobile unit

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 30, 2014 11:36 PM

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From left: Health Department Dentist Dr. Tera Harrison, Processing Assistant Kimberly Robinson, Dental Assistant Casey Roberts, and Dental Hygienist Jennifer Lynn. The 50-foot mobile dental clinic will provide dental services for children at three area schools.

The Health Department has acquired a mobile dental clinic that will soon travel to three area schools, providing services for children in need.

The 50-foot tractor-trailer recently arrived, after more than a year working to secure funding and being prepared for use.

The unit, formerly owned by Albemarle Regional Health Center and used for similar purposes, was upfitted in Columbus, Ohio.

"Phase 1 of the project, we were allocated money by the commissioners, $170,000, to purchase the unit and getting upfitting done," said Health Director Davin Madden. "Phase 2 is updating software, electronic devices and all the digital upgrades so that we're working state-of-the-art. We're in Phase 2 of that project, getting the wireless connectivity, necessary computers. That's where we are right now. My goal is to have it out this year, this calendar year."

The Health Department dental staff will also spend time becoming familiar with the setup and making it more efficient in preparation to hit the road.

"We'll start out at three schools -- Carver Elementary, Brogden Primary and Northeast Elementary," Madden said.

In one sense, the option is an extension of the WISH Centers, school-based health centers in several of the public schools. But ultimately, the health director said, it's all about providing dental care for the underserved children in the county.

"We have the opportunity here to work with kids that have not received any dental services at all," he said. "Our statistics show that more than 50 percent of children in Wayne County, Medicaid children, did not receive any dental services in the prior year. That's a huge gap."

The importance of dental hygiene reaches beyond clean teeth, though, and extends into well-being and even self-esteem.

"More and more studies are showing the connection between poor oral hygiene and overall health," Madden said. "We're looking at the No. 1 and No. 2 causes of death, cancer and heart disease. It starts with early care, preventive care."

The in-house dental clinic serves both adults and children, he said, but not all parents bring in their children, leaving a void in that area.

Taking the service out to area schools may help bridge that gap.

With a limited staff -- a dentist, a hygienist and one dental assistant, as well as an office manager -- the effort requires an efficient way to make good use of their time.

Between the partnership with the county commission, supporting the effort through funding, and Wayne County Public Schools, the Health Department is moving forward to bring the service to the younger population.

"What we set out to do a year ago, we have done," he said. "We're in the stage of finalizing this thing to launch into the school system. What was simply an idea 12 months ago is now a reality. We're getting some staff trained and the plan is about to move into implementation."

One of the first obstacles prior to all this was securing a dentist. When Dr. Tera Harrison was hired, she was immediately on board with the idea of the mobile clinic.

"The main reason why we first started looking into it, there was such a high population of kids that needed (it)," she said. "It's a really important service."

The new clinic features a waiting area, a lab and three stations, where staff can do cleanings, X-rays, fillings and extractions. A full digital Panoramic machine also takes X-rays and determines if teeth are coming in properly. It also has a wheelchair ramp for use as needed.

Unlike the WATCH van, which canvasses the county providing medical care for the uninsured, the children's dental clinic is much larger in size and as such, will remain at individual schools for an extended time, providing needed services.

"We might be at a school somewhere from two weeks to six weeks," Madden said. "It just depends on the number of students and the services the dentist discovers. They'll minimize how long the child's going to be away from class."

The exterior of the unit has already been adorned with an array of cartoon drawings of children and animals, along with the Wayne County logo and "Miles of Smiles," advertising its purpose. The inside will likewise be decorated in bright colors and kid-friendly artwork, Madden said.