Experts recommend visiting the dentist every six months, yet many families lack the financial means necessary to take their children to a dental check-up. Thankfully, Delta Dental of South Dakota Foundation gives children across the state access to free dental care.
The foundation aims to improve the quality of oral health in the state of South Dakota. To accomplish this goal, Delta Dental currently has two mobile trucks — Molar 1 and Molar 2 — that provide free dental care to children. Each week, the trucks travel to a new location and deliver free dental care to children ages 21 and younger.
Each truck houses two dental exam rooms, complete with a dental chair and tools for cleanings, x-rays, sealants, fillings, and extractions. The two trucks, which were created by Farber Specialty Vehicles in Ohio, are built identically.
“It allows our staff to go back and forth seamlessly without having to worry about little differences in the equipment,” Zach Parsons, program services manager of the foundation, said.
Each year, the trucks spend about 40 weeks traveling to different locations in South Dakota.
During each one of those weeks, a mobile truck coordinator drives the truck and serves as the office manager. Two dental assistants also travel with the truck, and the dental hygienist and the dentist meet the truck at its location.
“We contract with several dentists throughout the state to come spend a week at a time on our trucks,” Zach said. “We also have seven dental hygienists, and those hygienists work on the trucks when the truck is in a community close to them, and when they’re not on the trucks, they’re working on the South Dakota Native American Reservations.”
While working on the reservations, the hygienists give cleanings, fluoride varnishes, and sealants to children in community centers and Head Start programs.
“When the truck is close to them, they’ll jump on the truck, and they’ll serve as the hygienist on the truck for the week,” Zach said.
During the weekends, the foundation stores the trucks in a garage in Pierre, South Dakota.
“They pull in on a Friday afternoon, pick up their supplies, get restocked, and then they’re ready to go again on Monday morning,” Zach added.
Zach shared a story that illustrates how the mobile program benefits youth across South Dakota. One week, a teacher boarded the dental truck and warned the staff about a little boy at the school, saying that he would be a difficult child for the staff to handle.
“But they got him on the truck, and they took care of his teeth,” he said. “Later in the week, before they left, the teacher came back, and the teacher said, ‘It’s a completely different kid. This kid, all of the sudden, is listening in class, paying attention in class, doing better in class.’ He was having a lot of pain from his teeth, and that’s what was causing him to act out,”
So far, the trucks have visited 82 locations in South Dakota and provided more than $18 million worth of dental care.
“The key thing about the mobile units in South Dakota is that they provide access to a population that, in some cases, just can’t otherwise get themselves to dental care,” Paul Knecht, executive director of the South Dakota Dental Association, said. “I think it’s a great way for them, as an organization and a company, to live up to their mission of giving back and improving oral health in South Dakota.”
The trucks travel to many communities across South Dakota. To view the complete schedule of locations for 2018, click here.