In a mobile unit outside of Union Elementary School, Paloma Soto used a light to check out a child’s teeth for problems such as cavities.
As the director of Dental Services for CommWell Health, Soto plans to visit local schools once a week in the winter. But she’ll be making more trips in the spring.
CommWell Health recently received a grant through the Human Resources & Services Administration/Bureau of Primary Health Care, for oral health expansion. For the effort, CommWell Health made a proposal to implement a mobile unit to provide dental checkups at schools. Officials are expecting the truck to arrive in early April.
Soto is looking forward to visiting schools throughout Sampson County.
“The benefit that the children are going to get is amazing,” Soto said. “The need is out there and I think we’re going to do great things by coming to the schools.”
Dr. Caitlin Bunn believes it’s a great program and there is an immense need for it.
“I think getting them started is really important,” Bunn said about working with children and promoting healthy oral practices. “Hopefully, this will keep them in the habit as they become adults.”
In the meantime, CommWell Health is using a temporary unit to provide services, courtesy of the North Carolina Baptist Men/Baptists On Mission organization (NCBM).
“It’s well worth the hours that you put in,” said Danny Hart, a NCBM member. “It’s a lot of fun too. You meet a lot of nice people and help young children’s teeth go in the right direction.”
His wife, Pam Hart, feels the same way as a member of Baptists On Mission.
“I think this is very good thing that they’re starting up and I wish them much success,” Pam said about CommWell Health’s mission.
Christopher Vann, chief development officer for CommWell Health, is grateful for the help of NCBM.
“They’ve been a tremendous partner in this,” Vann said. “For the next couple months until April, we’re going to be using their bus. We’re going to start slow so we can quickly pick up momentum when the bus gets here.”
The intent was to touch the school with the greatest need first, which was Union Elementary School. Visits will be made to other schools as well. After the unit arrives, CommWell Health plans to spend five days a week, visiting all school in the Sampson district.
“We rely on the school system to give us guidance on which schools they would like for us to visit first,” Vann said. “They want us to touch the elementary schools first, which are where the greatest needs are.”
Vann stressed that North Carolina has one of lowest dentist-to-population ratios in the United States.
“We’re in what’s called a health professional shortage area for dentistry,” he said. “Essentially what that means is that there’s a need for more dentists and a need for more dental services, especially in rural areas of North Carolina.”
Vann said families struggling financially face other issues which prevents access to care. One of them is transportation. The mobile unit will provide services for students without access.
“It does it in a way by taking the services to the child, instead of a family member having to take time off from their job,” he said. “Now they can enroll their child in this program, while they can continue to work during the school day.”
Another goal is to provide services without being a burden on educators or keeping a student away from class for a long period of time.
Previously, CommWell Health served schools in the Union district with portable dental equipment. A team of professionals would go inside the school and provide full dental services. In 2014, more than 200 kids were assisted.
“It was real difficult for us to do because of the setting up and taking down of equipment,” Vann said. “We quickly discovered and decided that mobile dentistry is really a better fit because you’re more flexible to where you can take the bus.”
The process will allow the health organization to serve more Sampson County Schools efficiently. It will provide full dental services, such as X-rays.
“We’ll be able to provide a more thorough comprehensive dental service to all the students who want to sign up and participate in that,” Vann said.
CommWell Health plans to celebrate the arrival of the mobile unit with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and partnership with the school system.
“They have been wonderful partners to work with,” Vann said.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.