For the past 15 years, the University at Buffalo School of Dentistry has been providing dental services to the children of Chautauqua County through its dental van. On Nov. 26, a new mobile dental unit arrived at School 3 in Dunkirk where it is scheduled to remain until Jan. 11.
The new unit, built on a semi-trailer chassis, was put into service this school year. A grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration as well as significant contributions from the Ralph C. Sheldon Foundation and the Lenna Foundation, both in Jamestown, made the purchase possible.
The unit is a 42-foot long. three-dental chair clinic containing a wheelchair lift, a panoramic X-ray unit, digital radiography, an intake/education area and electronic patient records. The previous dental van had two chairs.
OBSERVER Photo by Diane R. Chodan
Kay Snell brought her children to the mobile dental unit parked at School 3. Some of her children get ready to have their checkups. Front to back: Joanna, Hosanna and Katrina Snell. Dental hygienist Lynn Ryan is checking Katrina’s teeth. Pediatric dentist Mike Phillips is checking through computer records.
The improvements will provide access for more patients and is handicapped accessible.
Introducing himself as Justin Bieber and wearing a Justin Bieber sticker on his shirt, James Harris, the director of clinical business for the school of dental medicine, said that the program tries to make the children comfortable with dental procedures. The University at Buffalo trains pediatric dentists who focus on the specific dental needs of children and also the psychology of working with them. Two pediatric dentists work in the unit. Other dentists are faculty members at the Dental School.
"Our focus is those children who don't have access to a dentist," said Harris emphasizing that the program is not trying to compete with local dentists.
A business person rather than a dentist, Harris explained that for the first 12 or 13 years the program "broke even," but for the last two years it lost money. He attributed the loss to changes in Medicaid. Medicaid has changed again and he is hopeful the dental program will break even this year.
Mike Phillips DDS is one of the pediatric dentists who provides services. He has worked with the program from the very beginning.
"I do it for the kids," he said.
"One key (to having the students in a school use the program) is the support that the school gives us," Harris said. He credits School 3 staff with sending and getting back the consent form needed for a dental screening and treatment. The teachers help by promoting the experience.
"We bring the students onto the van in groups. After an oral exam, the students are scheduled for appointments as necessary." he said.
Many of the children think that the dental van "is pretty cool." Some children are nervous, but the personnel can often turn the visit into a positive experience. Harris used as an example a boy who didn't want to take his coat or hat off. Harris asked him why and was told "this dental stuff freaks me out."
Harris had to spend some time finding out what the boy feared. The boy was afraid someone would hurt him. Harris explained to the boy that he was only getting an examination that day. He told him that a piece of plastic used while his X-ray is taken might be uncomfortable, but it would not hurt.
Daniel Genovese, principal at School 3 is grateful that the van comes to his school. "This is important for our kids," he said. "You might not think about it, but having a toothache would make it hard to concentrate."
Genovese is interested in making his school community aware of the service. On Dec. 13 there will be an open house for the dental unit from 5 to 5:30 p.m. The van is parked in back of School 3. This open house is being held in conjunction with a Parent Teacher Organization meeting from 5:30 to 6 p.m. and a family night and concert from 6-7 p.m.
The unit also provides service to members of the community who are not pupils at School 3. The S-miles to Go program accepts referrals from community providers and direct appointments for children. It accepts Medicaid, Child-Health Plus, Family-Health Plus and self-pay patients.
In the afternoon, the Snell children with their mom, Kay, arrived for their appointments.
Dental hygienist Lynn Ryan talked with 6-year-old Katrina Snell while escorting her to a chair for a cleaning and a check-up. Deana Hazen who serves as dental assistant and office manager, wore a scrub top with Dora the Explorer on it.
"The kids like Dora the Explorer," she said. She looked up records for the Snell youngsters and made them comfortable.
Their mom, Kay, explained why she brings her children to the van each year. "The cost is so much less,"she said. Her children are homeschooled.
After the dental unit leaves School 3, it will travel to Fredonia, Brocton,, Sherman, and Gowanda Central Schools as well as Sinclairville Elementary and Bush Elementary in Jamestown. The schedule is tentative.
The toll-free phone number for the S-miles To Go Dental Program is 1 (866) 254-0052.