Michael Shea, a student at the Rochester Institute of Technology, hadn’t seen the dentist in more than a year.
But on Thursday, Shea stood outside a SMILEmobile parked on the RIT campus. He was ready for a cleaning.
“It was convenient,” said Shea, a fourth-year student from Connecticut. He gestured at the big mobile unit behind him. “You have a dentist office on wheels right here.”
For the first time ever, this “dental office on wheels” stopped at the Rochester Institute of Technology on Oct. 5. The SMILEmobile provides treatment to students who are otherwise unable to access care.
The SMILEmobile is part of UR Medicine’s Eastman Institute for Oral Health. The Eastman Institute partnered with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield and RIT to provide this service for interested students.
Shea visited the mobile office to get his teeth cleaned. He’s seen people who neglect their teeth, Shea said, and they “don’t look very good.” Plus, it can be hard to get rid of all the plaque on your own, he said.
First truly mobile dental office
The Eastman Institute has other signature SMILEmobiles, which are trailers that set up at city schools for weeks at a time. However, this unit is the first truly mobile vehicle. It has been traveling to area nursing homes, refugee centers, and group homes to provide much-needed care to patients who have various access issues and otherwise wouldn’t receive care.
The custom built unit has a wheelchair lift and three dental chairs, including a movable air glide chair to allow for easier access. Services include dental examinations, cleanings, fillings, extraction, and dentures, among other procedures.
Another student at the SMILEmobile on Thursday was Melina Hillen of California. She was there to get her molars checked out.
The second-year student hadn’t had the time to visit the dentist in the last year. At one point she was also feeling a little bit of pain in her teeth. Her mother encouraged her to set up an appointment. Visiting the SMILEmobile was also very convenient, Hillen said, since she didn’t have to leave campus.
Too busy to visit the dentist
In upstate New York, about half of adults ages 18 to 24 have not visited the dentist in the last year, according to an Excellus BCBS analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 15 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds have also had at least one tooth removed because of tooth decay or gum disease.
“College is a busy time for students, and many miss their dental appointments,” said Neal Levitt, DDS, of Levitt and Zugner Dental Group and a consultant with Excellus BCBS. “But dental health is linked to overall health, and patients of all ages should see a dentist regularly.”
The SMILEmobile is making its next trip to the RIT campus on Oct. 23. For more information or to make an appointment, call (585) 475-3963.