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Dentist on wheels: Mobile clinic brings care to low-income children

Dentist on wheels: Mobile clinic brings care to low-income children


TWIN FALLS — After watching her older sister get fluoride varnish applied to her teeth, 3-year-old Trashal Rai started crying when it was her turn.

The Nepalese sisters weren’t in a traditional dentist’s office. Instead, they were receiving care in a mobile clinic parked along a curb outside Family Health Services‘ Twin Falls medical clinic.

Dental hygienist Lindsey Taylor used a translator phone — with an interpreter on the line — to help communicate with the family.

The mobile dentist’s office, part of the Idaho Children’s Health Project, brings dental care to low-income children and families. It helps reach patients who may have never been to a dentist, may not have transportation, or who have language or cultural barriers to seeking care.

Typically, the mobile clinic is parked in a rented space at Kimberly Nurseries Landscape & Irrigation when it’s not on the road. But in August, a pilot program began to bring it to Family Health Services’ Twin Falls medical clinic on Wednesdays.

“If it’s effective, we’d bring it here every day,” said Adam Hodges, dental director for Family Health Services and the Idaho Children’s Health Project, a program of Children’s Health Fund.

On Wednesdays, Taylor goes into the medical clinic and pops into exam rooms. She asks patients whether they’ve received dental care or have any dental concerns. Once the appointment is over, she’ll take a family into the mobile clinic for treatment.

As a dentist, Hodges — who started Family Health Services’ dental program in 2005 — said his number one goal is to “get people healthy and keep them healthy.” And his biggest joy is seeing a patient who doesn’t need any dental work.

That’s not always realistic, though. One-in-five children in the United States have cavities by the time they enter kindergarten, but Hodges says that’s completely preventable. Another challenge is there’s no requirement for Idaho children to receive a dental exam before enrolling in school.

When dental problems aren’t treated and get worse, a lot of money is spent in emergency rooms and students end up missing school, Hodges said.

To combat those issues, the mobile clinic — staffed by Hodges, dental hygienists and a driver — go to Head Start sites and schools for dental sealant clinics. Those often happen in the fall.

Hodges spent eight years, starting in 2007, with the mobile clinic as his primary office. He traveled mostly in Buhl, Twin Falls and Jerome, but the clinic has been all over south-central Idaho.

The mobile clinic hasn’t been used on a full-time basis in a couple of years. But there’s a chance that could eventually change.

It’s outfitted with two dental chairs and $30,000 worth of x-ray equipment, which requires an 8-foot clearance, so a skylight was installed in the vehicle to provide extra height capacity.

Over more than a decade, it has been remodeled three times, and was originally used to provide both medical and dental services. It was even used to help during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast in 2005.

In 2007, the vehicle was gutted and remodeled to become a dental-only clinic.

The Idaho Children’s Health Project is looking at new opportunities for using the mobile clinic, especially in Blaine County. Hodges has seen a lot of families who’ve taken time off work and school to come to the mobile clinic when it’s in Jerome.

Family Health Services wants to have a physical clinic building in Blaine County, Hodges said, but can’t get funding. If the mobile clinic went up there a few days a week and helped a lot of community members, he said, it could help justify the need.

Family Health Services provides medical, dental and behavioral health care on a sliding fee scale dependent on income. The community health clinics serve those with or without health insurance.

Future plans for the mobile dental clinic are still up in the air, but patients at the Twin Falls medical clinic can count on continuing to receive curbside dental help.


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