After 20 years of service, the School of Dentistry introduces a new Mobile Dental Van

Newswise – After hundreds of thousands of miles and 20 years of service, the UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry has a new wheelset for its Mobile Dental Van program to continue serving underserved communities.

In a ribbon-cutting ceremony today, school officials unveiled the new van, which replaces the existing unit, which has traveled nearly 130,000 miles from the greater Houston area to rural communities in East Texas since its inaugural run in 2002.

The school will continue to staff and operate the van, which includes three fully equipped treatment rooms and a wheelchair lift. Services and operating costs are financed by income from donations and contracts.

“Replacing the old treatment cart was overdue and we cannot thank our donors and partners enough for coming together to get us to this point,” said John A. Valenza, DDS, Dean and The William N. Finnegan III Distinguished Professor in Dentistry at the UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry. “This next generation of such a specialized vehicle in the School of Dentistry’s mobile dentistry program will allow us to not only reach even more patients, but also expand the educational experiences for our students.”

Each year, fourth-year students complete a three-week rotation on the dental cart as part of their clinical training.

To date, dentists have treated over 8,000 patients while providing more than $2.5 million in free dental care, including preventative and therapeutic treatment (cleansing, fluoride therapy, nutritional counseling, and oral hygiene education), extractions, and restorative treatments such as fillings. Root canal treatments and interim partial dentures were also offered.

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“It is very rewarding to finally see this new mobile dental van come to fruition so that the School of Dentistry can continue and expand our commitment to community outreach programs. By doing this, we can close the gap in oral health inequalities and provide oral health care to uninsured and underserved populations,” said Margo Melchor, RDH, EdD, professor of periodontics and duck hygiene and director of public relations at the school. “Additionally, our Mobile Dental Van Program enables our commitment to students and residents in providing community service learning and encouraging civic engagement. It is our responsibility to the community not just to improve oral health, but to improve overall health.”

Many patients cared for by the mobile dental cart team have not been to the dentist for months or years; in fact, many have never received oral care. Inconsistent or no oral care can lead to tooth decay, gum disease, and common bacterial infections that lead to systemic disease.

Locally, the van offers services at the Mission of Yahweh, which cares for women who are often victims of domestic violence or ongoing economic hardship, and Epiphany Community Health Outreach Services, which helps immigrants and the uninsured. The Mobile Dental Van program also has community partners in the Jasper and Orange counties of East Texas.

“‘Delivering Healthy Smiles Across Texas’ isn’t just a statement on our new van — it underscores our commitment to our mission to provide quality patient care and service in our state,” said Shalizeh “Shelly” Patel, DDS, MEd , Associate Dean of Patient Care and Distinguished Teaching Professor at the school.

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The new van was funded by various community supporters, including the TLL Temple Foundation, the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation, and the HH & Edna Houseman Charitable Foundation, with donations of dental equipment from A-dec Inc. Additional support was provided through a crowdfunding campaign collected.