December 11, 2018

Supporting a dental clinic on wheels

A new mobile dental clinic provides up to 8,000 children a year with free dental treatments.

Eleven-year-old Galvin Chanthasen doesn’t have to travel far for his dental checkups.

A mobile dental clinic parked at his school — Mayfair Elementary in Fresno, California — has been his “dental home” since kindergarten, providing him with routine dental care.

Now other children like Galvin will receive preventive care thanks to support from Kaiser Permanente. A $542,000 Community Health grant funded a new, state-of-the-art mobile clinic that will travel to underserved rural communities in Fresno County. Up to 8,000 children a year who might not otherwise receive dental care will benefit from free teeth cleanings, X-rays, fillings and extractions.

“A lot of our families struggle with being able to get their kids to a dentist,” Mayfair Elementary School Principal Gay Ockey said. “This is truly a blessing for so many of our families who don’t have insurance or can’t afford insurance copayments.”

Kaiser Permanente’s Fresno Wade Nogy, senior vice president and area manager, announces support for the Healthy Smiles mobile dental clinic.
Kaiser Permanente’s Fresno Wade Nogy, senior vice president and area manager, announces support for the Healthy Smiles mobile dental clinic.

A shiny new clinic

The Kaiser Permanente grant to the Healthy Smiles Mobile Dental Foundation paid for a brand-new RV that’s been transformed into a dental clinic on wheels, complete with dental equipment, exam space, and X-ray machines. Several hygienists and dentists work inside the clinic cleaning children’s teeth, taking X-rays and filling cavities.

The Healthy Smiles Mobile Dental Foundation is a nonprofit organization serving low-income families throughout the San Joaquin Valley. The foundation’s first mobile clinic started in 1994 at Mayfair Elementary School, and since then has traveled to more than 80 schools and communities throughout the valley providing dental care to more than 7,000 children a year.

But the organization has needed a new mobile unit for years, according to Tai Hartman, executive director of the foundation. The Kaiser Permanente grant allowed the organization to build a new, much larger mobile clinic and refurbish an existing one.

“We are truly grateful for the support from Kaiser Permanente,” Hartman said.

Filling a need in the community

Tooth decay is the number one chronic childhood disease — yet the easiest to prevent.

Principal Ockey said painful cavities and other tooth problems have caused students to miss school or not focus as well in the classroom. Having the mobile clinic at the school prevents many routine dental problems and helps to reduce absenteeism.

Bob Nelson, superintendent of the Fresno Unified School District, said he knows having the Healthy Smiles Mobile Dental clinic traveling to schools will help keep the district’s 73,000 students healthy.

“We know that our students’ health is absolutely vital to their daily learning, and obviously their oral health plays a huge role in that,” he said. “Kaiser Permanente is committed to serving the health needs of our students in Fresno Unified, and we are so grateful for the partnership.”

After having her teeth cleaned inside the mobile clinic at Mayfair, fifth-grade student Keophet Phimmasone couldn’t help but smile.

Her teeth sparkled, and she said they felt extra clean and a “bit slimy.”

Keophet said she hopes she can keep coming to the clinic to make sure her teeth stay healthy. And unlike other kids who may dread their trip to the dentist, Keophet said she doesn’t mind going: “It was a lot of fun.”