On a sunny Tuesday morning at 8:30 a.m., three Access Dental Care staff members stand in the parking lot of the Central Carolina Health Network as their large white truck with Access printed on the side pulls up.
The two staff members in the truck greet the others, explaining that a car crash slowed them down, but that didn’t take them away from their mission of serving the 12 patients who had appointments that day.
A typical day for staff consists of six patients, three in the morning and three in the afternoon for the hygienist and general care.
Before the first appointment, staff board the truck filled with dental supplies such as a portable x-ray machine, denture molds, dentist chairs and other tools. Then, one by one, staff deliver the supplies to the Moses Cone Infectious Disease Clinic.
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Once the supplies are in the light blue colored room with vibrant paints, the mission to get everything ready ensues. Staff are busy setting up chairs, setting up computers, plugging in and sanitizing equipment.
Access Dental Care is one of the few offices in the country that uses mobile equipment to reach hundreds of people.
According to Dr. TJ Wilson, the important part of accessing care is not only serving people with disabilities, but also others who find themselves in situations where they cannot make it to a dentist. The clinic specializes in helping people living with HIV, meningitis and other illnesses and communicates with Access Dental Care when patients need to work.
General Manager Chavanne Lamb is happy to partner with Access Dental Care as they have achieved results in the community and the specialty dental field.
Lamb sees the value of the office in providing dental care in a facility where clients receive their other health care, such as the network’s HIV population.
“It’s somewhat comforting for patients to be treated in a setting where they don’t have to disclose their status,” Lamb said. “They know that the dental care they are going to receive is not only of high quality but also takes their health into consideration, along with their other medical care.”
Dr Bill Milner believes there is interest from the Department of Health and federally approved health centers in wanting quality and flexible mobile equipment. Access Dental Care begins to work with some manufacturing partners to create dental equipment for community organizations who wish to serve.
After 20 years of using mobile equipment, offering highly sophisticated services in a mobile setting is essential to comprehensive support; they hope to develop these tools to allow more people to access care.
Milner cannot stress enough how understanding behaviors, supporting families and innovation in mobile dentistry create a community bond that creates access points for those in need.
Read more: Beyond Teeth: How an Asheboro Dentist Began Providing Comprehensive Care for People with Disabilities
The clinic’s job is to intervene, restore and maintain patients in good shape, and provide financial support. 75 to 80 percent of patients are on Medicaid, while 20 to 25 percent have private insurance. The clinic also offers several insurance programs, working with families to help fund dental care.
The clinic also partners with 120 facilities to work with staff to maintain care for people with disabilities. For example, how to help a person recovering from a stroke use a toothbrush. Milner thinks dental problems are always the last thing people think of, but it’s scary for those who can’t communicate.
To help patients who can’t communicate, Milner wants to educate dental students and other practices. He knows there isn’t much time in the program to train in comprehensive care, so he allows students to visit and observe the staff.
During Tuesday’s appointments, one of the shadows asked Wilson about his experience in his dental studies. Wilson and Milner have both seen an interest in this type of dentistry, but a challenge in the future will be training people who want to provide special care.
“For us, what we do in the community every day is an opportunity for them to learn, and therefore it is a systems approach. We have received great support in this process,” said Milner.
Milner thinks it’s the little things most people don’t think about, like wheelchairs and the inability to sit in the dental chair. But mobile equipment such as dental chairs that lean back for patients’ wheelchairs is one way to ensure that everyone has a fair opportunity to receive appropriate treatment.
“I think when people see that there is a real problem, it’s hard for them to say no to supporting an initiative like mobile dentistry,” Milner said. “Because I can only imagine coming from somewhere and having to drive an hour just for proper care.”
As one of the few mobile dentistry practices, staff want the communities they serve to understand the meaning of comprehensive care and how mobility plays a huge role.
Petruce Jean-Charles is a government watch journalist. They are interested in what is going on in the community and are open to advice on people, businesses and issues. Contact Petruce at [email protected] and follow @PetruceKetsia on Twitter.