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ASU students building mobile dental clinic

October 12, 2015

By Michelle Manchir

Photo of Sara Mantlik, Nick Kemme, Christine Bui, Jackie Janssen, Fionnuala McPeake
Group effort: ASU project team members, from left, Sara Mantlik, Nick Kemme, Christine Bui, Jackie Janssen, Fionnuala McPeake and Andrea Kemmerrer (not pictured) are fundraising to construct a mobile dental clinic. Photo by Cheman Cuan
In August, Sara Mantlik witnessed firsthand what oral health care can look like in impoverished countries: furniture pulled from a junkyard used as dental chairs, patients climbing over each other in cramped clinics, limited electrical power causing treatment delays.
The Arizona State University mechanical engineering senior visited Zacatecoluca, El Salvador, with a California-based nonprofit, IMAHelps, on a medical mission trip with about 100 volunteer physicians, surgeons, dentists, nurses and prosthetic services and support staff.
Ms. Mantlik was on the trip to contribute to an ongoing project she and five other students are spearheading to make oral health care access in an underserved country a less chaotic scene than the one she witnessed.
"It was crazy for me because I had never thought about how important oral health care is," Ms. Mantlik said, adding that "some patients (in El Salvador) had never even seen a tooth brush or toothpaste before."
Ms. Mantlik is the project manager of Engineering Smiles, a team of ASU students, which is working with IMAHelps to design and build a state-of-the-art mobile dental facility for use by dental students and dentists on mission trips in Nicaragua.
The venture began in 2013 when IMAHelps pitched the project to Engineering Projects in Community Service, a design-based service learning and social entrepreneurship program the students are part of at ASU.
Thanks to insight from dentists, including Dr. Antonio Gonzalez, clinical director of IMAHelps' dental division, and Becker Custom Trailers, the team has since then designed and is preparing to oversee construction of the trailer.
"A mobile dental clinic will provide our volunteers with a modern unit which meets U.S. standards and helps us deliver care to more people efficiently. It will provide a comfortable environment for both our patients and the dental team," said Dr. Gonzalez. "Most importantly, this project promotes goodwill, understanding and altruism amongst our next generation of young professionals."
If all goes as planned, the ambitious project will result in a four-unit mobile clinic that will be housed and used at UNICA, a dental school in Nicaragua, when it's not in use by volunteer dental teams on mission trips. The students hope to have it ready for IMAhelps mission trip to Nicaragua in August 2016.
The students involved are all engineering or design students, and have used their skills to craft a trailer using eco-friendly materials including solar panels that provide up to 50 percent of its total power. It is self-powered with four stations outfitted with its necessary equipment, including one pre-screening area. Restorations, extractions and root canals are among the services dentists will be able to perform on the trailer. The trailer will also provide privacy for patients thanks to cordoned-off units, and it will be air-conditioned, an essential amenity for volunteers working during relentless Central American summers, Ms. Mantlik said.
But the students need help covering the costs —  upwards of $180,000 — for what is the largest ever student-led fundraising initiative at ASU's engineering school, according to the student group's director, Scott Shrake, Ph.D.
While they've secured grant funding and several thousands of dollars from an anonymous donor, the students hope to raise at least $15,000 through crowdfunding. As of Oct. 12, the site had raised $4,421.
Ms. Mantlik said success of the project relies also on in-kind donations — which the team is seeking — of dental equipment, including dental chairs, for use in the trailer.
While the Indiegogo campaign will end Oct. 16, potential donors can use the project site to contribute and contact the team.
ASU's engineering community service program has a  "good track record of delivering" on the projects it undertakes, said Dr. Shrake. In the past, student projects have included creating water filtration and distribution systems for women's schools in Bangladesh; and designing, building and delivering mobile maternity clinics for developing countries.
"Sara and the other students are in this position to create something that will really have the chance to last and have a meaningful impact," Dr. Shrake said.
To learn more about the project, visit
For more information about international volunteering, visit the ADA Foundation international volunteer website,