CLEVELAND (WJW) – The drone of a generator is a sound that you normally don’t associate with a dentist’s office, but this isn’t your normal office.
Inside is a two-chair space, complete with x-ray machines, sterilization equipment and even a drill.
Helen Cumings says she’s always been able to get dental care, but it’s nice to have the dentist come to you for a change.
“I think it’s fun to find out if I have something good, I’d rather know, I have something good, and if there’s something bad, have them do something about it,” Cummings said.
The dental school at Case Western Reserve University takes this mobile office on the road to give fourth-year dental students more hands-on experience.
But it also brings much-needed dental care to folks in underserved communities, where many factors keep people from going to the dentist.
And that’s why taking the RV on the road has been so important.
“We do take our bus out weekly we’re on rotation at different adult day centers in Northeast Ohio, and we do have a waiting list. We have plenty of work to do. The need is great, and there needs to be more of us doing this kind of work.”
Doctor Suparna Mahalaha and Doctor Lisa Blackman have worked in public health for many years and have introduced dozens of new dentists to the needs of underserved communities
According to the American Dental Association, 19 percent of African American seniors and 29 percent of Hispanic seniors are less likely to seek dental care simply because of the costs.
Roughly 40% of working-age low-income African American adults are living with untreated tooth decay and in some cases tooth pain, according to the CDC.
The numbers are better for minority children but going to the dentist regularly for checkups and prevention can be very difficult
It takes time away from work, costs money, and in many minority communities, even finding a dentist can be hard to do.
“If you’re an adult and on Medicare, there is no dental benefit, not a comprehensive one, so it’s going to be very costly for you to get dental care,” Doctor Mahalaha said. “Let’s say you do find a dentist that accepts your insurance Medicare Medicaid or private there might not be many of those dentists where you live.”
Doctor Mahalaha says it’s important for dental students to understand that when they finally leave school and start a private practice that public health can be part of that.
An experience like this gives them an opportunity to understand that need, and why it’s important that as a part of their practice, they volunteer with a clinic or provide services to those who may not be able to get them easily.
“I think it’s amazing that we can do a lot of work in a bus right outside of a facility like this especially targeting a geriatric population because oftentimes we don’t see that kind of population in a dental clinic,” Rhea Pate, a fourth-year dental student said.
And that’s why both women say it’s important to bring health care to the people that need it.
Whether it’s on the RV for treatment or for simple checkups and oral care advice in the community room at a senior high-rise.
It’s also important for patients to see a doctor that looks like them.
Encouraging diversity by bringing in more women and people of color into the dental field can also lead to better outcomes.
“I can do the dentistry. I’ve been doing this for a long time, but I need them to feel comfortable. It allows familiarity. It is a comfort level that I’m able to provide I hope,” Doctor Blackman said.
The mission is simple: Good dental health should not be limited because of where you live or your race.
The Case Dental RV has been on the road for almost 10 years and has treated hundreds of people around the area to try to bridge that gap.
And by talking to people about dental health or taking care of a cavity or two, a little time and a little care can go a very long way, and there is always a way to get low-cost help if you need it.
“Community access and care for all regardless of their ability to pay, and that’s part of what we teach at the dental school as well… care for populations that would have nobody if you weren’t there to help them,” Doctor Mahalaha said.
In addition to the mobile office, Case Dental School also offers a low-cost dental clinic. It accepts insurance and government assistance programs.
If you would like to find out more about the work they do, you can click here.