Expansion of Dental Care for Low‐Income Children Through a Mobile Services Program


Joanne Spetz, Nadereh Pourat, Xiao Chen, Christopher Lee, Ana Martinez, Kong Xin, and Dana Hughes

May 29, 2019

Although access to dental care has improved over time, many children still face difficulty in obtaining services. One strategy to increase access is through mobile dental services, often in collaboration with schools, Head Start programs, and school‐based health centers. This study evaluates a large mobile dental care program based in Minnesota. Thematic analysis of interview data collected during a 2‐day site visit and multivariate regression analysis of electronic records of patients (adults and children) that received care from 2000 through 2015, representing 84,279 unique patients.

The number of patients increased from 5,558 in 2000 to 13,863 in 2015. There was a decline in the share of preventive procedures over this period, from 45.7% to 29.4%, and an increase in the share of patients seen at fixed sites. The interview data revealed that program growth relied on relationships with school leaders, expanded scope of practice for dental assistants and dental therapists, and high Medicaid reimbursement. It was found that mobile dental care programs can increase both preventive and restorative dental care for individuals who otherwise would not easily access oral health care services; mobile dental programs could be an option in many other communities and schools.