Some Independence students now have a unique way to visit the dentist.
Truman Medical Center-Lakewood Auxillary and the Independence School District unveiled their first mobile dental coach Monday morning at Blackburn Elementary.
The dental coach is a 14-by-30-foot recreational vehicle converted to a dentist office on wheels that will visit Independence elementary schools in the next two to four weeks.
“It has almost everything you can do in a regular dental office,” says Charlie Shields, Chief Operating Officer of Truman Medical Center.
The coach is furnished with an X-ray machine, waiting area, dental chair and other related equipment, plus a flatscreen television fixed to the ceiling that a child can watch while having their teeth examined. The mobile unit will be staffed with two dentists, one dental hygenist and two assistants. All of the equipment will be powered by electric generators.
In 2011, Shields said, Independence School District approached TMC to address student needs in dental health. TMC-Lakewood Dental subsequently reached out to the district and began a partnership to provide dental screenings and basic services-such as teeth cleaning, fluoride application, and X-rays-for students “most at risk” for dental diseases, said TMC’s media relations manager Shane Kovac.
John Dane, a dentist from TMC, said there are a “multitude of barriers” that prevent students from receiving dental care. “A lot of dentists do not accept Medicaid patients,” says Dane. “We’re not trying to sway business from area dentists, but a number of students cannot obtain dental care since they’re under a Medicaid plan. Also, some students do not have the means of transportation to visit a dentist. Medicaid transportation is limiting.”
According to Dane, the partnership has screened more than 6,000 students and serviced around 1,800. Initially children are screened for any dental-related problems, and if an issue arises, a notification is sent to the parent or guardian. The parents and guardians then decide whether to continue dental care with TMC-Lakewood.
However, physically bringing dental equipment to schools and finding adequete space became inefficient and a challenge, according to Independence Superintendent Dale Herl.
“We (Independence schools) found it hard to find a permanent space to place all the necessary equipment in order to provide a service a number of kids don’t have,” ssaid Herl. “The difficulty in transporting the equipment proved to be problematic as well.”
The partnership between the medical and education institutions devised a solution that led to the creation of the mobile dental lab instead of constantly hauling and setting up dental equipment inside school auditoriums and gymnasiums for student screenings that proved to be cumbersome and time-consuming, according to Independence schools.
Over the next two years, TMC-Lakewood raised funds to convert an RV to a dental coach. The project was $500,000 and TMC acquired the funds through a grant and donations from outside help such as Delta Dental of Missouri, Humphrey, Farmington & McClain, and others, according to Shields. The coach is owned and operated by TMC-Lakewood.
Dred Scott, deputy superintendent of Independence said, “(The coach is) wonderful. It enables more students to be served efficiently.”
With this new dental coach, they hope to provide dental care for 50 percent more of that 1,800 number of students, says Dane.
Asked whether student dental health has been a growing issue for the district, Herl replied, “Not only with us, but other local areas have this concern.”
Herl said depending on the program’s outcome in the next couple of months, they will determine whether to provide it for higher grade levels.
And will the portable dental coach be exclusive to the Independence school district?
Shields said they are discussing the service with both Blue Springs and Raytown school districts.