After being without a dentist for the bulk of a year, the Wayne County Health Department has hired Dr. Bill Radford to take over its mobile unit that travels to school campuses and serves children without a dental home.

Davin Madden, health director, was enthusiastic about the hire contracted for the part-time position, calling Radford "a good fit" for the program.

"We interviewed several dentists in the process. The mobile dental unit, by its very nature, is an unorthodox model -- compared to an 8-to-5 practice, seeing that the clientele is 100 percent children," Madden said. "It's important that we find a dentist that has the same desire, to work with that demographic."

The unique schedule, working around the school day, taking summers off, is just one aspect, the health director said. The other consideration was finding someone whose personality would mesh with the clientele being served.

"You want a dentist that's used to dealing with children, to help assuage their fears and make sure they enjoy the dentist -- what we used to call a good bedside manner," he said. "I think Dr. Radford is a good fit for it. He's got a great personality, is highly thought of in the community, he's worked in several capacities at Wayne Community College, Cherry Hospital, private practice.

"He was in the 'best fit' category for a public health dentist."

Madden recently told the Board of Health that he was very excited that the mobile unit is back on the road, currently assigned to Carver Heights Elementary School.

The dental position has been vacant since November 2016, after finishing up its stint at Brogden Primary School. The 50-foot tractor trailer bearing colorful artwork and the message "Miles of Smiles" was purchased through funding secured from the county commissioners and put on the road in Dec. 2014. The goal was to provide services for children lacking access to dental care and give them a dental home. There are basically two criteria to receive the services -- financial eligibility and that they are not already being seen by a dentist.

"Our goal is once we get to a school, we try to see every child that's on our roster," Madden said. "What we do, basically, is send out screening forms. Any parent that's interested in this as a dental home can respond and our staff goes through each application."

The program offers fillings, exams, cleanings, x-rays and the occasional extraction. About the only thing it does not provide would be braces.

Radford called his recent hire a good situation.

"I have really been fortunate. I have had a variety of experiences," he said.

The 63-year-old admits he had not set out to become a dentist as he was preparing to graduate from high school.

"I went to college. I just knew I wanted to get out of Pine Level," he said. "I knew there was something else out there."

At one point, he said, he was at a crossroads, contemplating going to California to pursue the music business but instead attended Campbell University, majoring in chemistry.

"I thought it was cool. I didn't haven't to write term papers," he said with a smile.

Later encouraged by his own dentist to consider the profession, he discovered it held an appeal.

The road led to him practicing in Smithfield, heading the dental program at Wayne Community College, two years in private practice and then dentist supervisor at Cherry Hospital.

Radford is technically considered "retired" by the state because of the number of hours he works now, but says this is a great job with a lot of potential.

"I have been proud of the kids here -- the kids are wonderful, they're well taken care of, their teeth are in pretty good shape. That's impressive," he said, explaining that the role affords him variety, as some of the students are also special needs. "I've got a background in special needs, with 10 years at Cherry Hospital.

"When I went to Cherry the first thing I figured out was that sometimes the process is more important than the product."

For the dentist, especially working with young, impressionable children, that means creating an atmosphere that will produce trust.

"It's not about how many fillings we can do or this or that," he said. "We have had kids that come in here and been very fearful and if we can look in their mouth and count their teeth, that's enough for that day."

Fortunately, he has a stellar sidekick in the role, in Casey Roberts, office manager and dental assistant. The only full-time employee in the mobile dental program, she has worked at the Health Department for 11 years.

She is also one of Radford's former students, having graduated from WCC in 2006.

"I think it's cool," she said of the reunion with her former instructor. "We get along great. We're a super team, really."

In addition to handling paperwork for the program and assisting Radford, she creates a comfortable setting in the mobile unit -- handing out stickers, stocking the "treasure box" for children coming through the doors.

It's a laid-back atmosphere, Radford said, but also an enjoyable situation.

"The main thing I like about it is we do good things every day," he said. "It's important, to be able to feel like you have done something good every day.

"I have always prided myself on being a person that gets things done. I told somebody recently, they're helping me here. I can't say enough good things about my assistant. She's great. I'm just so glad that I didn't have to spend the last 40 years cooped up in an office somewhere."