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University at Buffalo mobile program to expand dental access in rural New York

June 30, 2016

Access: New York State Sen. Catherine Young and dental assistant Deana Hazen speak with Mikayla Brady, a first-grade student at Clinton V. Bush Elementary School, inside the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine's UB mobile dental unit. Photo by Jason Chwirut
Buffalo, N.Y. — A mobile dental program received $371,000 — a 50 percent increase in state funding, enabling it to expand to three counties and double access to care for underserved children in rural areas, the University at Buffalo announced in June.
    
In collaboration with Rural Dentistry Pilot project, the University at Buffalo S-Miles To Go Mobile Dental Program seeks to address barriers to health care that exist in rural settings, which include inadequate transportation, few sources of fluoridated water, a shortage of pediatric dentists and a lack of clinics that accept Medicaid.
    
"Having a program like this is a necessity for our region," said State Sen. Catherine Youth, R-57th District, in a news release. "Our rural areas face unique geographic concerns related to availability and access."
    
According to data gathered by the UB School of Dental Medicine, 63 percent of children treated on the mobile dental unit have untreated carries, significantly higher rates than those of third grade children statewide. Only a quarter of these children visited a dentist in the past year, compared to 83 percent statewide.
    
With the additional funding, the UB program can expand care to Oswego, St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties, doubling the UB dental school's reach. The program also serves Alleghany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Livingston counties.
    
The increase in funding from the state budget allows the programs to purchase portable dental equipment than can be transported to schools, allowing dental hygienists to visit the sites and perform oral health screenings, cleanings, sealants and fluoride treatment.
    
Children who need fillings, extractions or crowns are treated on the 42-foot-long mobile dental van, outfitted with three dental chairs, an X-ray imaging machine and a sanitization center. The mobile dental van serves as an opportunity to train dental students, as well as introduce them to the challenges facing patients in rural settings, said Dr. Stephen Abel, associate dean for student, community and professional initiatives.
    
"By sending our students on the van, we expose them to a different community that can't walk into this dental school and receive care," he said. "Ideally, this will inspire our students to want to practice in these settings."
    
To date, the mobile dental van has provided 38,000 patient visits in 15 years.