John Tolley, March 31, 2018
Minnesota is one big state. Its 86,936 square miles span from frigid International Falls down through the headwaters of the Mississippi, from the shores of Lake Superior to the vast plains of North and South Dakota.
That immensity is no discouragement, though, for the students and staff of the University of Minnesota's UCare Mobile Dental Clinic, who traverse the state bringing critical dental care to the communities that need it most.
"In 2002, began a partnership that exists today between UCare and the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, to provide access to UCare members that have been underserved for many years," says Dr. Paul Schulz, Director of the Mobile Dental Clinic. "We travel Minnesota 48 weeks out of the year to provide that much-needed dental care."
The Mobile Dental Clinic is a fully operational medical facility that can provide cleanings, exams and minor procedures to restore dental health. The current clinic vehicle was custom-built in 2010. It is fully wheelchair-accessible and features three chairs with state-of-the-art instruments and full digital radiographic capabilities.
The staff consists of dental, dental therapy and dental hygiene students along with faculty who monitor and assist the students. It's a rare chance for students to get hands-on experience working with patients. It's also an opportunity for students to see how their skills can have a real impact within communities across their state.
"Being on an outreach site like this has really opened my eyes to wanting to serve in a community clinic once I graduate," says Nadine Yacoub, a fourth-year dental student. "The Mobile Dental Clinic has opened doors to me that wouldn't have otherwise been opened. And, it feels so good to be able to see patients who might not be able to get care elsewhere."
Those patients are primarily Medicare and Medicaid recipients who connect with the clinic via UCare, an independent, non-profit health plan that serves a variety of Minnesotans. Many who come to the Mobile Dental Clinic are elderly and have mobility issues or live in remote or rural areas where accessing a dentist that will accept their health insurance can be difficult.
"The patients are so grateful for the care that we provide," notes Mary Thomas, MPH, the clinic's services coordinator. "That makes us all smile; getting to work with our UCare members. It's just a happy environment."
For Bruce Belland, who has been a patient of the Mobile Dental Clinic since 2011, the convenience of the service is a perk, but getting to interact with students in a learning environment makes the experience uniquely special.
"I've had several different students work with me and they're just so pleasant and courteous, as are all of the doctors," Belland says. "And it's great that they go all over the state. It gets people to the dentist who otherwise wouldn't go because they have no way to get there."