Getting to the dentist can be a challenge for anyone. It’s something we tend to delay, or purposely forget about, or we’ll wait until something is noticeably wrong. But most of us eventually get there because we know that going is imperative to maintaining our overall health. We also know that scheduling regular dental cleanings and check-ups and establishing healthy oral hygiene habits for our children is essential to their well-being. It’s no secret after all, that preventing and treating common problems such as cavities and tooth decay can save us from a world of unnecessary pain and other problems down the line.
But for some, receiving dental care isn’t so easy. Particularly for lower income families and those most vulnerable within our community – more serious and systemic obstacles often stand in the way: things like prohibitive costs, lack of insurance, speaking little-to-no English, disabilities, not knowing where to go, or not having the means to get there. No family should have to choose between putting food on the table and getting a necessary filling, which is one of the many reasons Marin Community Clinics are expanding comprehensive oral health services including preventive, restorative, and emergency dentistry at its clinics and beyond.
How Far Beyond?
That’s now up to the Clinics, its community partners, and perhaps the captain of a new fully equipped mobile dental clinic. Made possible by a generous gift from the Peter E. Haas Jr. Family Fund and the 2019 Summer Solstice Celebration “Fund a Need” donors, the Clinics’ mobile dental service is hitting the road throughout Marin County, going wherever the need may be: places like public schools and Marin County community-based organizations. The Mobile Clinic has been in the works since before the pandemic, but the wait is now over, and the program is already bringing confident smiles to both children and parents alike.
Racquel Beltran, MCC’s Senior Dental Operations Director, was aboard the vehicle for the official launch, ushering young patients and their parents in and out of the giant RV-like trailer, and taking a moment to celebrate the milestone within its compact and pristine waiting area. “Our goal is to get out in the community and deliver dental services where our patients need us most ,” she explained. “We’re coordinating the scheduling with the schools and other community organizations, so we’ll be visiting different locations, or we’ll be parked in one place for two or three days out of the week, depending on the need. We hope to make pediatric dental care a little easier on parents too.”
While parked at the Novato Clinic, a young MCC patient named Anely climbed her way aboard to check out the vehicle with her mother before committing to putting on a pair of shades and settling into the dental chair for her screening. There was a lot to take in: The mobile clinic features two fully equipped patient chairs, a sanitizing station, an x-ray machine, technology such as computers and mounted flat screens, refrigeration, a registration desk, and a waiting space. “We truly have everything we need on board, it’s as if we’re in the clinic,” said Beltran. “We can do far more than a quick visual exam. We’re able to provide a full scope of restorative care all within this mobile clinic.”
Driving Through the Barriers
The mobile dental service is currently partnering with the Clinics’ pediatrics medical team to combine services, determining which patients may be past-due for dental oral screenings, and then treating them on-site immediately following their medical visit. For the clinics that aren’t equipped with dental chairs, such as the Campus Clinic, this development offers more flexibility, and can eliminate the need to initiate referrals.
That, in-turn, can save parents from missing out on another day of work, or having to once again pull a child from class due to a follow-up appointment. The Clinics aim to utilize the now fully operational Mobile Clinic to continue to eliminate those barriers that prevent so many from seeking dental care. With MCC’s other dental sites operating seven days a week with extended hours due to the demand of service, the added chairs will help alleviate some of the stress where possible.
It’s the Journey and the Destination
They say it’s the journey that counts, but after some unavoidable (and lengthy) detours due to the pandemic and school closures, MCC’s dental team are now focused on the destination – specifically getting to different locations within the community. As schools slowly come back to session, and with the Clincs’ community partnerships stronger than ever, the timing and the need for the Mobile Clinic is right now.
Even prior to the pandemic, MCC planned to expand some dental services based on the growing need within the community, and now coming off a year of significantly limited dental care availability anywhere, the demand has only heightened. Beltran and her team are eager and excited to get the project (literally) rolling, but understand it’s a process. For the Clinics, the successful launch is a key step in getting there.
“It’s a different environment with the space being much more confined, and so we’re still getting comfortable,” added Beltran. “The more we continue getting out in the community, the more people will want to be here – we’re open to operating as much as possible.”
As for young Anely, the Mobile Clinic’s first-ever patient? She completed her cleaning like a champ and gave the experience a favorable (thumbs-up!) review, climbing down the ship’s steps with minty fresh teeth and new toothbrush in hand. With MCC’s new Mobile Clinic gassed up and ready to go, there’s reason to believe a lot more smiles are on the way.
Marin Community Clinics’ Mission: To promote health and wellness through excellent, compassionate care for all.
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