As a sort of "dentist on wheels," mobile dentistry brings the dental office to patients, unfolding the dental chair wherever necessary.
One such practice is Cascade Hygiene, the brainchild of Erin Pocuis, a licensed dental hygienist in Washington state. After earning her dental hygiene certifications and education at Yakima Valley Community College, Pocuis now offers the latest technology in a portable dental unit that has air, water, suction, ultrasonic scaling and a polishing unit.
Pocuis worked in a brick-and-mortar dental office for more than five years in San Francisco. After recognizing a lack in oral health access for seniors, she created her version of an on-the-go dentistry. Currently she works with patients at a Bremerton dental clinic three days a week, and on the other days, she packs up her mobile dental unit and takes to the road.
"By state law, anyone who is licensed can work on patients in their homes or elsewhere, as long as there is a need for us to come to them," Pocuis told western Washington news source the Bremerton Patriot.
Mobile dentists are on-site, dental outreach providers that can clean teeth anywhere, from schools to senior centers to offices. Their goal is to provide everyone with the necessary access to have a healthy smile and overcome problems like gingivitis, tooth decay and chronic halitosis.
New wave of dentistry
The mobile dentistry movement is gaining ground across the country. On April 10, the state of Michigan signed a law that will increase the standards of care for mobile dental units, requiring specific equipment and more oversight from the Department of Community Health. All of this, Michigan governor Rick Snyder said, will raise the quality of care delivered by these facilities to ensure residents receive the services needed to to live healthy lives.
"Good dental health contributes to good overall health," Snyder said in a statement. "Children and seniors are among our most vulnerable residents and they are also the most common customers of mobile dental facilities."
In Pennsylvania, mobile dental clinics have visited students, offering dental screenings, classroom education and other services. In the last decade, PennSmiles mobile dental clinic traveled 65,000 total miles to provide dental care access.
Of course, for these specialized services, cost comes to mind. Yet most of the time, the expenses aren't extraordinary. The charges depend on the amount of time a mobile dentist spends with a patient and generally range from $50 to $100 a visit. Visits span an hour to two hours.
On top of cleaning patients' teeth, mobile dentists conduct an oral examination to detect other issues, such as mouth cancers and gingivitis. The dentists can also provide fluoride gel, sealants, radiographs, fillings (in select areas) and simple extractions (in select areas). In the past few years, some states even allow dental hygienists to apply topical numbing agents like anesthesia when needed.
In the U.S., tooth decay is the No.1 infectious disease among children. Though the general population has less tooth decay than it did 40 years ago, kids have seen a recent rise in cavities. In fact, 42 percent of children ages 2 to 11 have had dental caries (cavities) in their primary teeth. Seniors are also at a heightened risk, due to medications that cause dry mouth, thus leaving them more susceptible to tooth decay and other underlying infections that can lead to chronic bad breath.
There's no question that healthy teeth and a healthy mouth create better overall health. And if going to the dentist is a hassle, mobile dentistry could pay you a visit.