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Rural Health Information Hub

Mobile Dental Services Model

In the mobile dental services model, rural communities deliver dental services through mobile dental vans or portable dental clinics in population centers, schools, or hard-to-reach areas. The focus of this model is to offer access to care for underserved residents of isolated, rural communities. This helps patients that would otherwise have to travel a long distance to access dental services.

The mobile dental services model offers access to dental care, preventive healthcare, and chronic disease screening and management services. Services often offered by mobile dental programs include dental exams and cleanings, education, and dental sealants. Complex procedures, such as root canals and oral surgery, are less commonly offered.

A mobile dental van may include dental working space; X-ray facilities; a sterilization system; and computer for processing claims, updating medical records, and scheduling appointments. Mobile dental programs may also transport dental equipment to Head Start centers, schools, and nursing facilities to enable providers to provide care on site. The mobile dental program may submit claims to Medicaid and third-party insurances.

Examples of Rural Mobile Dental Services Programs

The Tioga Mobile Dental Services program, sponsored by the Tioga County Public Health Department, is an example of the mobile dental services model that has been adapted by rural communities.

Another model, Delta Dental Mobile Program, provides dental services to rural children throughout South Dakota.

Implementation Considerations

Relationships with community members and collaborators are imperative to the success of the mobile dental services model. Rural programs have worked with schools and government agencies that are vested in the program to provide electricity, water, and septic hook-ups for mobile dental vans. While the van is on site, local dental professionals often donate supplies and equipment. Community partners may also provide support by referring clients. The mobile program may refer patients for more specialized care to private dental practices.

Mobile dental services programs have different staffing needs than other programs. For example, programs typically hire or work with a coordinator who is responsible for scheduling appointments, determining eligibility, billing, reporting, and community outreach. Some programs have a policy that van staff must be able to lift at least 50 pounds of portable equipment.

As of 2013, 80% of state Medicaid programs provided reimbursement for mobile dental services. However, many mobile dental services operate by using a mix of funding streams. It is common for this program model to maintain diverse funding streams from patient fees, in-kind support from local organizations or foundations, and fundraising events. Maintenance costs for the van must also be considered and may include obtaining appropriate licenses and winterizing the van in harsh climates.

For additional information about mobile clinics, see the Mobile Clinics section of the Rural Transportation Toolkit.

Resources to Learn More

An Assessment of Mobile and Portable Dentistry Programs to Improve Population Oral Health
Describes the various mobile and portable oral health service delivery programs, including new models and applications, and the populations they serve. Examines state regulations overseeing mobile and portable dentistry programs and the results from preventive interventions offered to underserved populations who use portable dentistry options.
Organization: Oral Health Workforce Research Center (OHWRC)
Date: 8/2017