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A Glimpse Into a Charity Mobile Dental Program

Dental hygienists explain through a Q&A the unique angle of the St. David’s Foundation, which provides oral health care services to at-need patients.

The St. David’s Foundation is an Austin-based nonprofit organization that invests in a healthy community through signature programs and collaborations with more than 60 nonprofit partners. Through a unique partnership, they reinvest proceeds from St. David’s HealthCare to help build the healthiest community in the world.

The St. David’s Dental Program is a collaboration that brings mobile dental clinics to high needs schools and social service agencies in Travis, Williamson and Hays counties, and provides grants to community-based dental clinics and programs though the Healthy Smiles Program.

HOW IS THE ST. DAVID’S DENTAL PROGRAM DIFFERENT THAN OTHER PROGRAMS AROUND THE COUNTRY?

Cassie Nutter: We’re the largest school-based charity care mobile dental program in the country and currently operate in six school districts throughout three counties in Central Texas. Our program targets low-income schools, where we bring our mobile dental clinics and offer free dental care to elementary school-age children during school hours.

Polly Elbertse:  Aside from being the largest program, we also offer a broad range of preventive and restorative services such as sealants, cleanings, fluoride varnish, fillings, and extractions. Every services is provided free of charge.

HOW ARE YOU ABLE TO OFFER CARE FREE OF CHARGE?

Elizabeth Lindholm: We are supported by funds that come from a unique public/private partnership with St. David’s HealthCare, where proceeds from the hospitals are invested back into the community through the St. David’s Foundation, and the dental program is one of those investments. The St. David’s Dental Program began in 1998 with half of a dental van shared with another agency. The foundation has expanded and now includes nine mobile dental vans.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN PATIENTS REQUIRE CARE THAT IS TOO COMPLEX TO BE TREATED ON THE VANS?

Nga Villanueva: We provide many services on the vans. On the occasional someone needs complex care treatment beyond what we can provide in the mobile setting, and if they are covered by some kind of insurance, Medicaid or CHIP, we refer them to dental clinics who can take care of them.  For those without coverage, we provide case management and patient navigation services to connect them with a private dentist in the community who volunteers their services to help our patients.

EXPLAIN THE SETUP OF YOUR PROGRAM—WHICH HAS BEEN USED AS A MODEL FOR OTHER PROGRAMS ACROSS THE COUNTRY.

Shirley Creed:  Our program comprises nine vans and approximately 50 people. Together we treat, on average, more than 11,000 patients each year. Two vans are equipped for a team of two dentists, one hygienist and four dental assistants, and each van is equipped with the latest high-tech dental equipment and technology. When I joined the dental program, I was really impressed with the advanced equipment—it was more high tech than the clinical settings I had previously worked in.

Polly Elbertse: For the treatment aspect, we start by conducting a dental screening at each school.  From the screenings we can determine if a student requires any care and whether it is restorative or preventive.  One of the reasons our program has become a model is our emphasis on preventive care and the use of sealants.

Elizabeth Lindholm: We don’t only seal first molars—we try to seal every erupted permanent tooth that could possibly benefit from a sealant.  Due to this type of preventative care, we’ve seen a big reduction in the amount of restorative work needed as these children continue to be treated by us over the years.

WHAT TRENDS IN DENTAL HEALTH HAVE YOU BEEN SEEING AMONG THE POPULATION THAT YOU WORK WITH ON THE VANS?

Nga Villanueva: The lack of oral health education in the communities we work with has been a big issue for us. This spans from the overall dental health of the students we treat, to their nutrition and knowledge of healthy foods.

Cassie Nutter: Everyone on our vans tries to give one-on-one oral hygiene instruction to each child we treat.  We think it is really important to keep reinforcing this to them, and we hope they will take some good habits they learned back and share them with their families.  We also make sure to give every student a bag, which includes a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, oral health tips, and a two-minute brushing timer. We’ve gotten great feedback from parents that kids who are treated on the vans come home and share everything they’ve learned, so we believe that our education is working.


From Perspectives on the Midlevel Practitioner, a supplement to Dimensions of Dental HygieneOctober 2015;12(10).

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