Mobile Dental Clinic: Bringing Dental Care to Underserved Children

The BIE cohort with Dr. Valerie Lam and the dental clinic staff.

On June 12, the BIE cohort visited the Mobile Dental Clinic, which provides free dental services to low-income patients up to age 20. The Mobile Dental Clinic is a collaboration between John Muir Health, La Clinica de la Raza, Brookside/Lifelong Medical Care, Contra Costa Health Services, and Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Bay Area. Started in 2004, the clinic travels to different sites throughout Contra Costa county four days a week. Many of the children and teens treated are uninsured without previous dental care and are referred by community health centers, word of mouth, schools, and public health nurses.

Chris Grazzini, RN MS, introducing us to the mobile dental clinic.

We had the privilege of hearing from the clinical program manager Chris Grazzini, RN MS, who talked about the history of the clinic and the importance of its mission. She explained that especially in low-income communities, oral health is not emphasized as much as general health, which causes problems in daily life. We learned about the different community outreach endeavors to address this issue. Reaching 15,000 elementary school children per year around the county, the Children’s Oral Health Program educates children about oral health, screens them for dental problems, and administers sealants and fluoride treatments to prevent cavities. The clinic is also involved in providing services for juvenile facilities, as well as during community health fairs. We were impressed with the scope of the programs and their efforts in spreading oral health awareness and bridging the gaps in care where it is most needed. In addition, Ms. Grazzini discussed the challenges of having a mobile dental clinic, including issues with truck and equipment maintenance, funding, and storage.

Inside one of the rooms in the mobile dental clinic.

Next, we had the opportunity to tour the inside of the truck. We were surprised by how spacious it was, complete with a small waiting area and two operatories with x-ray equipment. Inside, we talked to the dentist, Dr. Valerie Lam, as well as the registered dental assistants. On the truck, they have all the equipment and supplies needed to provide preventative care and cavity fillings. However, they refer patients to fixed clinics for more extensive procedures that require multiple appointments or anesthesia, like teeth extractions, root canals, and wisdom teeth removals. Most of the appointments are made in advance, but the clinic tries to accommodate walk-ins with emergent problems. On top of providing dental services and educating patients about oral hygiene, the clinic strives to assist patients and their families with medical and dental insurance enrollment and to connect them to a dental and medical “home.”

Although the visit was short, we learned a lot and were inspired by the clinic’s impact on the community. We look forward to seeing how the clinic will grow in the future! To learn more about the Mobile Dental Clinic, visit this website.