Traveling miles to deliver healthy smiles.
➼ This spring, students who attend schools in Harrison and Marion counties have the opportunity to climb aboard the Smile Express, a mobile dental service provided by the Monongalia County Health Department.
Tiffany Summerlin, a public health dental hygienist at the MCHD and the coordinator of the Smile Express, says the intention of the mobile service is to make dental care more accessible and convenient.
“It’s a sobering experience to see the unmet need of those with limited access to dental care,” says Summerlin. “Whether it is children in school, adults with limited income, or residents in nursing homes, everyone deserves to have a chance to access dental care. Sometimes you have to take the care to the people.”
Together, the team of Summerlin, dentist Dr. Mike Wiener, and assistants Laura Burrows and Velvet Urgo are doing just that by driving across north central West Virginia in a converted 2005 Winnebago Voyage motorhome.
In 2012, Summerlin drove an RV across the United States to follow her husband, Jamie, an ultramarathoner, as he completed a cross-country run. That experience, combined with her professional background, gave Summerlin the confidence to make the Smile Express a reality.
A $150,000 grant from the Delta Dental Foundation contributed the bulk of the Smile Express’s start up expenses, says Summerlin, with additional funding coming from the Cheat Lake Rotary, the Monongalia County Commission, the Rotary Club of Morgantown, and the West Virginia Oral Health Program.
The Smile Express RV houses two fully functioning private dental operatories, central sterilization, a bathroom, a waiting area complete with a Nintendo gaming system, a digital panoramic radiograph machine, and a NOMAD x-ray machine with digital intraoral sensors.
“We have the capability to perform most of the procedures that are done in our ‘sticks and bricks’ office at MCHD Dentistry,” says Summerlin.
The Smile Express debuted last fall, traveling to schools in Braxton, Harrison, Lewis, and Monongalia counties to offer services such as dental exams, assessments by a dental hygienist, cleanings, X-rays, sealants, fluoride treatments, oral health education, and minor restorative services.
“When we look at the utilization of dental services by most children who have insurance, less than half of those children have had a dental visit in the last three years,” says Summerlin. “While the dental visit itself does not solve all the problems, we know that a child who creates a habit of having dental care and receives oral health education is much more likely to have a healthier mouth
and life into adulthood. In our short time in operation, we have seen some cases that really bring this point home.”
The ultimate goal of Smile Express is to improve the oral health of West Virginians, she says.
“I feel the opportunities for us to serve the community are broad and, with the help of dental providers, sponsors, and partners, we can meet the needs of those who seek affordable and convenient services.”
To see Smile Express’s upcoming schedule or to access an application for a student to be served, visit monchd.org/smile-express.html.
Written by Kaylyn Christopher