Disabled people often have difficulties in receiving dental care. To overcome those difficulties, innovative solutions have been developed. One of those solutions is the concept of the “mobile dental clinic” which brings comprehensive dental services to the people who may struggle to receive care in traditional ways.

Mobile Dental Services in the Hudson Valley

A non-profit organization called the Westchester Institute for Human Development recently unveiled its 39-foot mobile dental clinic in August 2018. The mobile clinic is designed to serve disabled children and adults in the greater Hudson Valley region of New York. The clinic, based on a Winnebago chassis, replaces an older version that had served the community for many years.

The new mobile clinic is equipped with a full range of dental care equipment, including:

  • Two separate dental suites
  • Tool sterilization lab
  • Handheld imaging equipment, including x-rays
  • Wheelchair lift and door access for physically disabled patients

Patients receiving care in the mobile facility are attended to by licensed dental practitioners and registered dental technicians. Routine cleanings and checkups are only a part of the many services available to patients; cavity fillings and tooth extractions are also possible. Diagnostic imaging is available, thanks to the onboard x-ray equipment.

The mobile clinic was funded through a New York State grant called the Statewide Health Care Facility Transformation Program. The cost was $376,826. The previous mobile clinic operation in the Hudson Valley served between 40 and 50 patients a week; the new mobile facility will increase that load to 70-80 patients per week. The clinic makes 15 stops at area agencies serving disabled children and adults in the region.

Barriers to Dental Care

Most people take dental care for granted. For those people, routine visits to the family dentist are common and are typically covered by some form of dental insurance, either self-purchased or as part of an employee benefits package. Unfortunately, underserved populations do not have this ready access to dental insurance. Dental care can be expensive, especially for those paying for services out of pocket. The costs and lack of access to dental insurance can be prohibitive, serving as a nearly-insurmountable barrier to adequate oral healthcare.

Disabled patients have even more potential barriers to overcome. A sizeable percentage of disabled dental patients may require specialized care, including sedation, to deliver dental treatments. If those disabled patients do not have dental insurance, they are effectively barred from receiving care. Funding for underserved and underprivileged patients, including children, adults, and the disabled is scarce; in some states, dental practitioners are reimbursed for only a small fraction of the treatment costs by state funding and federal Medicaid programs, leading to denials of service for many of the people who desperately need dental care.

The mobile dental clinic operated by the Westchester Institute for Human Development is one elegant solution used to overcome treatment barriers. By providing competent care to disabled individuals, the Institute and its compassionate dental providers are able to reach those who cannot receive dental care in traditional ways. The mobile dental clinic serves as a model for organizations throughout the United States, says Thomas E. Cooke,  and it is hoped that additional clinic operations take root in other areas of the country.

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