The dental ‘bus’ stops here

June 24th, 2013

dental-bus-titleA special RV rolled into Dallas in March 2012 with a new hometown and a new mission to deliver dental care and prevention.

This 39-foot Airstream is anything but a recreational vehicle. A former mobile medical unit operated by the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, it has found a new purpose in A&M Baylor College of Dentistry’s community-based dental programs.

Interior renovations resulted in two complete restorative dentistry operatories. One of the existing medical examination benches was retained so Texas A&M medical residents next door at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas could join the dental school during community visits.

The TAMBCD Department of Public Health Sciences also hired an employee with a commercial driver’s license, a requirement for driving the vehicle. Currently dubbed “Hippocrates,” the unit is destined for a new name, but for now it’s affectionately known as “The Bus.”

Mechanical problems delayed plans to send the mobile dental unit out routinely on sealant program visits to Dallas-area elementary schools beginning January 2013,  but repairs are in progress.

Associate Professor Dr. Stephen Crane ’73 oversees the sealant program and realizes the vehicle’s benefits. Instead of transporting equipment via the smaller Seal Mobile van and setting up portable chairs in elementary school classrooms, patients will be treated in the permanently-installed dental chairs in the new vehicle. Plus, cargo space under the unit provides extra storage, so faculty, students and staff don’t have to caravan to community health fairs.

The mobile dental unit will allow public health sciences faculty to make sealant visits five days a week, instead of just four. And with the newly hired driver, Kenneth Howell, helping with setup, all faculty members in the department can make sealant visit rotations part of their weekly schedule, instead of just Crane and Assistant Professor Dr. Shirley Miranda.

“We hope that this is going to do double duty,” says Dr. Dan Jones ’89, public health sciences chair. “Now anyone can supervise sealant visits. That gives us more freedom; that’s part of the advantage of the bus. We want to make it available for any faculty member or department who has an idea for an outreach event.”

As the sealant program entered its third year of funding from an Oral Health America Grant, it gained another resource: a $20,000 “Healthy Smiles, Healthy Children” grant from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry to help cover supplies, maintenance and fuel costs, and salaries for faculty and drivers.

Jones says the vehicle can be volunteered for Texas Mission of Mercy weekends or visits to women’s shelters to provide dental care for mothers and their children.

“It will give us more of a presence,” says Jones. “It extends our reach. We’ll be able to do things we couldn’t do before.”

— Jennifer Fuentes