With one of the largest fleets of mobile dental clinics in the country, St. David’s Dental Program offers free dental screenings, sealants and acute care to children at Title I elementary schools across six school districts in Central Texas, as well as to adults referred by area safety net clinics and the Health Alliance of Austin Musicians (HAAM).
Each of the six vans is equipped with two dental exam rooms, digital x-rays, and computer workstations. The vans are staffed by licensed dentists, hygienists, and dental assistants.
The St. David’s Dental Program has a fleet of six mobile dental vans which travel to Title I schools in six Central Texas school districts throughout the school year. The basic concept behind the mobile dental program is to bring dental care to kids who can’t get to it. Seeing a dentist is often challenging for some families as the parents may not be able to take off work to take their kids to a dentist. Transportation to a dentist’s office can also be a challenge for those who rely on public transportation, especially if there are other children at home who have to come along. By coming to schools and treating kids, we are able to treat kids who might otherwise miss a day of school because of a toothache.
The vans are outfitted with state of the art dental equipment and house two dental exam spaces, so that one dentist can work on two patients simultaneously. The vans are staffed by professional dentists, hygienists, and dental assistants, all of whom work for St. David’s Foundation and have chosen to be in public health because they are committed to making a difference.
In advance of the dental program’s arrival at a school, our dental team conducts screenings where one of the dentists takes a quick look into each child’s mouth and determines which kids need to be seen on the vans.
When we arrive on campus, the dental assistants gather the kids in small groups of about four to five at a time and bring them on the vans. The kids get x-rays and see the dentist for an exam. While the kids are waiting their turn, our staff shows them how to properly brush their teeth. Some patients may be scheduled for multiple visits depending on what issues the dentist needs to address. They all take home toothbrushes and toothpaste.
The dental teams on the vans are experienced in working with children. Many of the kids are seeing a dentist for the first time. Some are apprehensive and nervous, and our staff works patiently to gain their trust. Once that trust is earned on the vans, sometimes we are able to help kids with more than we anticipated.
Here is a story told by one of our dentists, Dr. Ensy Atarod, about a boy who was nervous about seeing the dentist, yet had many dental issues that needed to be addressed:
The first time we saw our patient, a nine year old boy, he had rampant decay throughout his mouth. During this visit, he was nervous and would not cooperate for treatment. He wiggled a lot in the dental chair, put his hands over his mouth, and cried. We were not able to take care of any of his decay issues during his first visit.
We got in touch with his mother and let her know that he had quite a few cavities that needed to be addressed, and also let her know that he was too frightened to let us help him. His mom assured us she would seek treatment for him.
A year later, we saw the same boy, now 10, on the dental van at another school. He remembered us and his visit to the van last year. He still had all the previous cavities, but they were now deeper. In addition, he had new cavities.
He was still very apprehensive of dental treatment. We slowly walked him through what we were going to do. We started by working with him to increase his tooth brushing skills. During his first visit, he cried during the cleaning, but we were able to complete it. We saw him on the van four more times, and each visit we were able to gain a little more of his trust. Eventually, we were able to place fillings in his teeth. Some of the fillings were so deep they extended into the nerve of his teeth.
During the last visit, we had gained so much of his trust that he shared with us more about what was going on in his life. He told us that he was very unhappy with his life, that he didn’t like the kids in his new class because they were mean to him, and that he wished he was back at his previous school. We were able to relay this information to with his school counselor and teachers, who were not aware any of this had been going on. They were able to help him get some counseling. On his last visit on the van, he gave all everyone on the team great big hugs, which were repeated whenever we saw him in the hallways.
“It’s a great feeling to make a difference.” – Ensy Atarod, DDS