Some of the top reasons people say they are unable to get to the dentist are “difficulties scheduling times while working” and “lack of transportation to the dental office.”
St. David’s Foundation in Central Texas has come up with a solution.
With a fleet of nine mobile dental vans serving six school districts across the great state of Texas, in three different counties, dental teams deliver state of the art care to children and adults in underserved communities, including high needs elementary schools. There are approximately 50 dental program staff which include 11 dentists, 4 hygienists,19 dental assistants and16 operations staff members. This is the largest charity based mobile dental program in the country.
However, this impressive size and number of patients treated did not start out at this large scale. St. David’s Foundation first partnered and created a volunteer based program back in 2000. Over time, leadership changed the model to expand it and serve more patients, with full time staff who operate regional teams and function like a traditional dental office across Central Texas.
Mobile dentistry can be costly to run and operate. St. David’s Foundation has 80+ non-profit partners helping to meet many needs of their community. The Foundation runs the dental program, led by Dr. Shailee Gupta, Chief Dental Officer. Last year, St. David’s treated approximately 12,000 children donating services valued at $9 million dollars in free dental care. Dr. Gupta oversees the operations of the state of the art dental vans with equipment and staff that are able to provide a full spectrum of dental care. Vans are meant to be a fun experience for patients to visit. Yet, each of the fun vans is equipped with two dental exam rooms, digital x-rays, and computer workstations.
Parents are often busy working and are unable to take their children to the dentist during hours that fit their schedules. In the summer months, the vans treat patients and book appointments and operate more like a traditional dental office would operate. Dental program staff also serve the adult population at local safety net clinics while schools are on break.
“We’re always serving somewhere in the community,” Dr. Shailee Gupta shares. “Even when the vans age, we donate them to our safety net partners in the community who want ‘permanent’ dental clinics onsite.” St. David’s Foundation recently donated vans to rural areas outside Austin in the Smithville and Elgin areas, so the community clinic there can use the vans to provide dental care to their patients. Another van remains permanently at one of the local safety net medical clinics.
“In the schools, the patients leave the van less afraid of the dentist, and they go right back to their schoolwork,” says Dr. Gupta.
The mobile dental vans are inspiring others across the country who come to Austin, Texas, to talk to Dr. Gupta and the staff to see how they can replicate the program elsewhere to meet patients’ needs back home in their communities. Recently, the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine faculty visited Austin to see St. David’s Dental program and how they have designed their vans to treat patients efficiently with state of the art equipment and quality dental care. The UPenn school built a brand new mobile van, PennSmiles, to replace their older van to treat patients back in Pennsylvania after meeting with St. David’s staff and learning what a successful program is in Texas. “It is incredibly rewarding to host guests from across the nation so they can create and operate mobile programs to better serve their patients and communities.” says Dr. Gupta.
Shailee Gupta, DDS, MPH oversees all direct dental services and dental operations functions of the St. David’s Foundation Dental Program in Austin, Texas. Dr. Gupta holds a Doctor of Dental Surgery from the University of Texas Dental Branch at Houston, a Master of Public Health from Creighton University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Microbiology from the University of Texas at Austin. Her husband, Dr. Samir Gupta is a general dentist and owns a private practice in northeast Austin. They have 2 children ages 13 and 9 and when they are not busy with activities, they love to hike, travel and enjoy local eateries and hot spots in Austin. Dr. Gupta is committed to finding programs and ideas that increase patient access to dental care and volunteers her time on the Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention at the American Dental Association.