Schools partnering with mobile clinic for dental care

By Michelle Martin
Sunday, May 1, 2016

Since 2014, the dental professionals on the Mobile Care Dental Van have filled more than 300 cavities, applied 45 sealants and extracted 15 teeth for students at Visitation School, 900 W. Garfield Blvd.

Of the 75 Visitation students seen on the van, 47 percent had some unaddressed dental needs, said Matthew Siemer, Mobile Care’s director of operations.

Dominican Sister Jean Matijosaitis, Visitation’s principal, said she knew there was a huge need for dental care among her students.

“We service a community that often struggles,” Sister Jean said. “They may have access to health care in some way, but they don’t have dental.”

When Mobile Care first approached her about bringing the dental van to the school, she thought it was too good to be true: onsite dental care, including follow-ups, with no cost to families of the school.

So far, it’s worked out better than she could have expected.

“There have been no glitches,” she said. “They do everything they can to make it easy.”

Sandy Anderson, principal at Most Blessed Trinity in Waukegan, said her school is expecting its first visit from the Dental Van in June, and it can’t come soon enough.

“I probably have two or three kids a month I have to send home with horrible toothaches,” she said.

All of the students at Most Blessed Trinity have low enough household incomes to qualify for free or reduced-price school lunch, she said, and their families can’t pay for regular dental care.

“There’s no way they can afford the kind of work that’s going to be done here,” Anderson said.

According to the Office of Catholic Schools, eight more schools already have signed on to work with the Dental Van. Parents at schools that choose to participate will complete consent forms.

When the van visits the school, participating children will receive initial exams, cleanings and tooth sealants, and any necessary follow-up visits will be scheduled for when the van returns.

The dentists who work on the van also will fill out the dental exam forms that students must submit in kindergarten, second grade and sixth grade.

As part of its services, Mobile Care dental staff members return to ensure all work was properly completed and that no other services are needed. Mobile Care also maintains a 24-hour hotline if parents want to make an appointment between school visits.

The dental service is similar to the medical services Mobile Care provides with its Asthma Van and Children’s Health Van.

The goal is to enroll all archdiocesan schools with students in need by the end of next school year, according to a statement from the Office for Catholic Schools.

Siemer said Mobile Care’s Dental Van is different from many free dental clinics in that its goal is to give all of its patients a “dental home” from when they are first seen until they graduate from high school or turn 19, and all of the care is provided at no cost to their families or schools.

Costs are covered through grants and private donations, Siemer said, as well as some Medicaid payments for medical services.

The van also makes dental care less disruptive, since students only miss class for the time they are actually being seen.

“Initial exams only take about 10 minutes,” Siemer said. “Restoration work might be 30 or 40 minutes. If a parent has to take a child out of school for a dental appointment, that’s at least half a day. And if they have some of these unaddressed needs, that’s going to be multiple appointments.”

Mobile Care has provided medical services to several archdiocesan schools for nearly 15 years, resulting in fewer emergency room visits and better attendance. Siemer said archdiocesan schools are a natural partner for Mobile Care.

Sister Jean said her students’ parents, many of whom struggle to pay tuition even with financial aid and scholarships, are happy for the help and please with the quality of service.

The van is clean an child-friendly, and the staff know how to put children at ease.

“None of the children were afraid to go on the van,” she said. “And none of them came back crying.”

As for the parents?

“They’re delighted,” she said.


  • catholic schools
  • healthcare
  • most blessed trinity
  • visitation

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