By Mary Alice Casey | Photos by Jo McCulty
As kids climb aboard the College of Dentistry’s mobile dental clinic, fourth-year dental student Jonah Staten sees all sorts of opportunities.
There’s the chance he and his peers have to gain experience treating young and almost certainly nervous patients. And their ability to contribute to the well-being of kids, many of whom have never visited a dentist before. And their shot at influencing how the youngsters perceive trips to the dentist for years to come.
“At Ohio State, we place a big emphasis on giving back to the community. Many of the kids wouldn’t have any kind of dental services if it weren’t for us.” -- fourth-year dental student Jonah Staten.
“We can give them a positive view of what the dentist is and how to take care of their teeth,” Staten said. “Children are not adults. They come in with their own fears and ideas of what dentistry is and isn’t, and we’re able to mold that before they get these feelings of, ‘I hate the dentist.’”
The college’s Health Outreach Mobile Experience (HOME) Coach program, which marked its 10th anniversary in February, serves nearly 2,500 children each year, mostly in Columbus City Schools. Fourth-year dental students and dental assistants provide the care under the supervision of faculty and postdoctoral fellows, spending at least one week and often longer aboard the dental office on wheels.
“We serve a multitude of children from a multitude of backgrounds,” said Staten ’10 MA, a former teacher who returned to Ohio State in 2011 to study dentistry. “Kids know fake. These people who I work with on here, they really care about kids. To me, that’s huge, and the kids pick up on it. At Ohio State, we place a big emphasis on giving back to the community. Many of the kids wouldn’t have any kind of dental services if it weren’t for us.”
A shiny new office
This year, the program has brand- new digs: a $534,000 clinic on wheels sporting the latest equipment and technology. The 45-foot coach — funded by Delta Dental Foundation, a College of Dentistry supporter since 2007, and designed and built by Ohio-based Farber Specialty Vehicles — features slide-out rooms that provide additional space, digital X-ray machines at all three dental chairs and advanced diagnostic capabilities. The waiting area is an interactive education station with four electronic tablets, and screens above each dental chair stream movies to entertain and calm young patients during exams.
“For the last 10 years, access to oral health has been the No. 1 unmet health care need for Ohio’s children. The HOME Coach program helps bridge this gap by providing oral health care and education to underserved children.” -- Dr. Casinse Bean
Dr. Canise Bean, who oversees the HOME Coach program as the college’s community outreach and education director, said Ohio Department of Health (ODH) data illustrate the need for these services.
“For the last 10 years, access to oral health has been the No. 1 unmet health care need for Ohio’s children,” Bean said, noting that ODH research reveals that more than 340,000 Ohio kids have never visited a dentist. “The HOME Coach program helps bridge this gap by providing oral health care and education to underserved children.”
As a school nurse, Tonya Schuetz has coordinated the coach’s visits to Valley Forge Elementary School in northeast Columbus for several years. This year, 40 percent of the school’s 300 students will receive care.
“Many of our parents don’t have cars or don’t have insurance or they speak other languages, so they don’t know where to go,” Schuetz said. “So this is a great service for our families.”
She sees far fewer students in her office — or absent altogether— because of toothaches or other dental problems, meaning they are in their classrooms learning.
“The dental coach is awesome, and the kids love it. They beg me to go out on the coach,” she said. “[The dental students] relate to the kids. If the kids are scared, they let them on the coach one day to observe and then go the next day for treatment.”
The kids also receive important dental hygiene and dietary information during their visits.
“We certainly want our kids to understand that we want them to see the dentist twice a year, brush their teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and have proper nutrition,” Bean said. “Now we have this wonderful interactive education station, which is a major enhancement to our program.”
Lessons are plentiful
The mobile clinic’s visits to 25 to 30 Columbus area schools each year provide great practical and community service experiences for dental students and postdoctoral fellows.
“It’s a very good learning opportunity for the students. We can do everything from A to Z as far as pediatric dentistry — fillings, stainless steel crowns, root canal treatment for kids,” said Dr. Sara Toema, who began her studies in her home country of Egypt and is now a fellow in pediatric dentistry at Ohio State.
“Some parents aren’t aware of how important oral care is to their kids, to their development and growth. And a lot of people can’t afford to take off work to take their kids to the dentist. So we come to them.”
The new coach also allows dental students to work with the latest equipment and offer care in a kid-friendly environment.
“This is really good experience to boost our confidence in working with young children and to get a feel for what it’s like to be in an actual dental office,” said dental student Lauren Patterson, who worked on the coach earlier this year and for several days last summer.