The Bowling Green family had put off dental appointments till the pain became nearly unbearable.
|Dr. Lauren Czerniak examines the teeth of patient Mike Thornton inside a mobile dental clinic. (Photos: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
Like many families, they lack dental insurance. So dental appointments are delayed as long as possible.
“She’s been in pain from the one cavity,” the mom said of their 12-year-old daughter.
As the daughter was treated in one patient chair, their 3-year-old son was being examined in another. The checkups revealed the daughter had three cavities and the son had one.
“We don’t have dental insurance,” said the mom, who asked that their names not be used. “We work and have health insurance, but no dental.”
So last month, the parents took their children to the mobile dental center — a heavily modified recreational vehicle that makes monthly visits to the parking lot of the Wood County Health Department.
“For people who aren’t poor enough, or rich enough, this is great,” the mom said as she kept a watchful eye on her children in the exam chairs. “There’s nothing else for us. I think it’s really nice that services like this are out there.”
The mom admitted that without the mobile “Smile Express” dental clinic, the family may have postponed care even longer.
“We probably would have let it go a little longer,” she said.
They are far from alone. An estimated 35 to 50 percent of Wood County residents lack dental insurance, according to Tamra Fairchild, health educator with the Wood County Health Department.
“And most dentists don’t accept Medicaid, so that makes it even more difficult,” Fairchild said.
The mobile dental clinic offers relief to patients of all ages.
Though it is far from spacious, the wheeled dental office does cleanings, X-rays, fillings, extractions and dentures.
|A view inside the mobile dental clinic parked at the Wood County Health Department.
“We do everything a regular office would do,” except for root canals which are too time-consuming for the cramped clinic, said Darla Schuldt, the Smile Express driver. Since the clinic thrives on efficiency, Schuldt also does patient check-ins and check-outs, sterilizes the room and does X-rays. “I do a little bit of everything.”
The clinic which travels throughout the region, treats between 30 and 40 patients a day.
“It’s really fast-paced,” she said, with the two exam chairs filled by a new patient as soon as the previous is done.
Most of the patients have limited funds and inadequate dental insurance. So the clinic accepts Medicaid and sets up payment plans. Schuldt estimated the mobile clinic charges less than half the normal dental charges. For example, a tooth extraction averages $71, and a cleaning with X-rays costs $89. The cost for children without insurance is $25 “for whatever we do,” she said.
Dr. Lauren Czerniak has been staffing the mobile clinic for two years.
“I believe in it,” she said. “It gets you to places where people don’t have services.”
Like the Bowling Green family with two children, several people lacking insurance put off care, Czerniak said.
“We see people who haven’t seen a dentist for years and need their teeth removed,” she said.
Though the outcome isn’t ideal, the clinic offers them services they can’t get anywhere else.
“They are very grateful,” Czerniak said of many patients.
As Czerniak examined one patient, Dr. Bob Love checked out another.
“I feel there’s a community aspect to this. We are going to those who don’t have access,” Love said. “They put it off, or they have a fear, and they put it off till it’s no longer bearable.”
|A mobile dental clinic is seen parked at the Wood County Health Department.
Both dentists willingly give up more spacious offices for the incredibly cramped quarters of the Smile Express.
“It’s tight, but it’s workable,” Love said.
The small office doesn’t bother Norma Kramp, 77, of Bowling Green, who was just glad the mobile service was available.
“I don’t have insurance,” said Kramp, who had put up with a dull toothache for nearly two months before going to the clinic. “They’ve always been good to me.”
In the other chair was Mike Thornton, of Waterville, who brought in a crown that had fallen off. This was the first visit for Thornton, who also lacks dental insurance.
“It’s a room with a view, this is terrific,” he said looking out the mobile clinic’s window. The dentist told Thornton she would re-cement his crown. “It’s amazing what they can do,” he said.
“There’s a lot of need in these areas,” Schuldt said. “That’s what we’re here for.”
Fairchild said the clinic not only relieves pain but also provides valuable preventive care. Good dental care also helps with self-esteem and allows people to eat more nutritious foods like crunchy fruits and vegetables.
“I don’t think you can put a price on it,” Fairchild said of the mobile clinic care.
The Smile Express comes to the Wood County Health Department, at 1840 E. Gypsy Lane Road, Bowling Green, on the first Tuesday of each month from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Appointments can be made by calling (419) 241-1641.