On a sunny Tuesday morning at 8:30 a.m., three Access Dental Care staff members stand in the Central Carolina Health Network parking lot as their big white truck with Access printed on the side pulls up.
The two staff members in the truck greet the others explaining a car accident slowed them down, but it would not take them away from their mission to serve the 12 patients who had appointments that day.
A typical day for the staff consists of six patients, three in the morning and three in the afternoon for the hygienist and general care.
Before the first appointment, the staff climb into the truck filled with dental supplies such as a portable x-ray machine, denture molds, dentist chairs, and other tools. Then, one by one, the staff wheel the supplies into the Moses Cone Infectious Diseases Clinic.
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Once the supplies are in the light blue-colored room with vibrant paintings, the mission to get everything ready ensues. The staff hustle to get the chairs in place, set up computers, plug and disinfect the equipment.
Access Dental Care is one of the few offices in the country that uses mobile equipment to reach hundreds of people.
According to Dr. TJ Wilson, the important part of access care is not only to serve people with disabilities but others who are in situations where they cannot visit a dentist’s office. The clinic specializes in helping people with HIV, meningitis, and other diseases and communicates with Access Dental Care when patients need work done.
Executive Director Chavanne Lamb is happy to establish a partnership with Access Dental Care because they have established results in the community and area of specialty dental care.
Lamb sees the value of the office to provide dental care in a facility where the clients receive their other health care, such as the network’s HIV population.
“It is somewhat comforting for patients to be treated in a setting where they don’t have to disclose their status,” Lamb said. “They know that the dental care they’re going to receive is not only high quality but taking into consideration their health, in collaboration with their other medical care.”
Dr. Bill Milner believes there is an interest from the health department and federally qualified health centers that want good and flexible mobile equipment. Access Dental Care is starting to work with some manufacturing partners to create dental equipment for community organizations that want to serve.
After 20 years of using mobile equipment, offering very sophisticated services in a mobile setting is essential to comprehensive care; they hope to develop these tools to give more people access to care.
Milner cannot emphasize enough how understanding behaviors, helping families, and breaking ground in mobile dentistry provide a community connection that creates access points for people in need.
The clinic’s job is to step in, restore and keep patients in good shape, and provide financial support. 75 to 80 percent of patients are on Medicaid, while 20 to 25 percent have private insurance. The clinic also provides multiple insurance programs, working with families to help finance dental care.
The clinic also partners with 120 facilities to work with staff to maintain care for people with disabilities. For example, how to help a person recovering from a stroke operate a toothbrush. Milner believes tooth problems are always the last thing people think about, but it is agonizing for those who cannot communicate.
To help the patients who cannot communicate, Milner wants to educate dental students and other offices. He knows that there is not much time in the curriculum to train for comprehensive care, so he allows students to visit and shadow the staff.
During the appointments on Tuesday, one of the shadows asked Wilson questions about his experience in studying dentistry. Both Wilson and Milner have seen an interest in this type of dentistry, but a challenge in the future is training people who want to do special care.
“To us, what we’re doing in the community every day is an opportunity for them to learn, and so it’s a systems approach. We’ve had a great deal of support in that process,” Milner said.
Milner believes it’s the little things that most people do not think about, such as wheelchairs and not being able to get into the dental chair. But mobile equipment such as dental chairs that lean back for patient wheelchairs is one way to ensure everyone gets a fair opportunity for proper treatment.
“I think when people see there’s an actual issue on hand, it’s hard for them to say no to supporting an initiative like mobile dentistry,” Milner said. “Because I can only imagine being from somewhere and then having to drive an hour just for proper care.”
As one of the few practices with mobile dentistry, the staff wants the communities they serve to understand the meaning of comprehensive care and how mobility plays a huge role.
Petruce Jean-Charles is a Government Watchdog Reporter. They are interested in what’s going on in the community and are open to tips on people, businesses and issues. Contact Petruce at [email protected] and follow @PetruceKetsia on Twitter.