Some might dread a trip to the dentist, but for many, it’s the complete opposite. For Oklahomans in areas without easy access to dental care, going to the dentist might not even be a possibility. Thanks to MobileSmiles Oklahoma, residents all across the state can have access to free dental care.
A coordinated effort through the Oklahoma Dental Foundation (ODF) and Delta Dental of Oklahoma Oral Health Foundation, MobileSmiles began in 2005 when some Oklahoma dentists learned about a used fifth-wheel RV that had been outfitted with dental equipment. They also found a similarly converted Winnebago, and the idea was born.
In 2006, MobileSmiles became the first program of its kind in Oklahoma. Its services are always free and primarily include extractions and fillings and restorative work when possible.
“The ability to do something that requires a lot of follow-up is very challenging,” said John Wilguess, ODF executive director. “We try to make sure that when we see patients in the communities that we go to, we take care of the most immediate and urgent needs those patients have.”
MobileSmiles also works with local “site partners” such as other nonprofits, churches and schools to coordinate and schedule appointments in advance.
Site partners help defray the costs of running a mobile dental office — about $3,000 a day — through a donation of $1,000 per day, Wilguess said. SoonerCare and other private donors.
MobileSmiles treats around 2,400-2,600 Oklahomans each year. In 2016, the program provided medical care totaling over $630,000 in value over the course of 216 days in the field.
“We really get to the places where there’s just no other option for folks,” Wilguess said.
MobileSmiles also strives to incorporate dental education — in more ways than one. Initially, the program utilized volunteer dentists, but in 2014 they decided to partner with the University of Oklahoma’s College of Dentistry.
“The dental students are required to take a two-week externship away from the college, and so we will have two dental students onboard our mobile units for two weeks at a time,” Wilguess said.
Wilguess said a dearth of SoonerCare providers in some areas of the state could mean that those who are technically covered might not have practical access to dental care. MobileSmiles also provides toothbrush kits for children, and its dental providers discuss the importance of brushing.
“There’s all these populations of people who live in pain or infection and don’t have to, because dental care can be made available to them,” Wilguess said. “It’s just a matter of changing the culture in Oklahoma to understand that dental care really is of vital health care importance.”
ODF also hosts the annual Oklahoma Mission of Mercy, a two-day event that provides free dental treatment, often helping around 2,000 people. The next Oklahoma Mission of Mercy will be held Feb. 2-3, 2018 in Durant.
“We are able to go provide those services and try to educate people as we go along,” Wilguess said.
print headline: Smiles for miles, With its MobileSmiles program, Oklahoma Dental Foundation takes free dental care to the roads — and all across the state.