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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 reach a dentist.

The mobile dental services model offers access to dental care, preventive healthcare, and chronic disease screening and management services. Specific services offered by mobile dental programs may include dental exams, education, and dental sealants. Root canals and oral surgery are two services not often provided by a mobile program.

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

Implementation considerations

Relationships with community stakeholders 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 stakeholders may also help 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.

Finally, it is important 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.

Resources to Learn More

Health Center Oral Health Promising Practice: Adding Restorative Care to Health Center Mobile Dental Programs
This Community Health Center, Inc. program uses mobile teams comprised of a dental hygienist and a care coordinator ensure care is delivered efficiently and effectively.
Organization(s): National Network for Oral Health Access
Date: 3/2012

Medicaid Travel of Pediatric Dental Teams, Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Department of Public Health
A best practice approach report that describes a program in Alaska that reimburses travel and per diem expenses for pediatric dental teams in order to improve access to dental care services.
Organization(s): Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors
Date: 1/2005

Mobile-Portable Dental Manual
An online manual to help clinicians learn more about establishing dental services using mobile or portable equipment.
Organization(s): The Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors