About one in four patients living within the service area of Northwest Community Healthcare (NCH) do not have dental insurance. This doesn’t mean you should ignore your oral health, which is directly tied to your overall health, according to Afsheen Ommar, DDS, BDS, Staff Dentist for the NCH Mobile Dental Clinic, established in 2003.
“Infection in the mouth can turn into a life-threatening disease,” Dr. Ommar says. “We want patients to understand the need for regular dental health checkups. We are here to help and we’re going to take care of them.”
The Mobile Dental Clinic is a 40-foot long truck equipped with two examination rooms, X-ray equipment, a sterilization area and professional staff offering comprehensive dental care.
“We provide examinations, X-rays, deep cleanings, root canals, dentures, crowns, fillings and extractions,” says Dr. Ommar. “It’s the vast majority of all basic dental needs.”
The clinic delivers dental health on wheels by visiting two schools a month during the school year and travels throughout four townships –Elk Grove, Schaumburg, Palatine and Wheeling. The townships partner with NCH to provide dental care for patients young and old who meet the following criteria:
- No dental health insurance
- Live within one of the four township’s boundaries
- Live within 200 percent of the federal poverty level
“We’re a fully functioning dental office on wheels,” says Program Manager Jessica Vavra. “We’re celebrating our 15th anniversary this year.”
Two years ago, NCH upgraded to a newer vehicle, offset by grants received from the townships and private donations. The idea for the clinic was born after local dentists, including the late Mike Schroeder, DDS, a dentist and Wheeling Township supervisor, partnered with NCH to provide dental care for residents who could not afford it. NCH also partners with Advantage Ambulance.
“We were providing really basic dental care at the start,” says Dr. Ommar. “Now we have introduced other services like crowns and dentures, because I think that in this day and age, replacement of missing teeth is very important. We want to make sure we actually serve as a dental home for all of our patients and families.”
The program continues to grow, serving an average of 250 patients per month. In 2017, the value of services to patients was estimated at $870,000.
“We’re always busy,” Dr. Ommar says.
How it works
If you think you may be eligible, contact the township you live in. The township will conduct a financial screening to determine eligibility. If you meet the criteria, you will be registered as a patient. You can then call the clinic to schedule an appointment. There are no walk-ins allowed since a prescreening is necessary, and the clinic does not offer emergency services for non-established patients. The cost of a visit to the clinic is $30 for adults. Children are free.
“All patients at their first appointment are given a comprehensive exam and a full set of X-rays,” says Vavra. “Funding for the program is provided by the townships, private grants and NCH as well as some agencies including the Chicago Dental Society.”
The Mobile Dental Clinic serves as a clinical rotation site for UIC College of Dentistry where Dr. Ommar serves as a professor. Under her supervision, fourth-year dental students care for patients alongside her in the clinic. The staff also includes a full-time dental assistant and another dentist, scheduled two Fridays per month. In addition, a handful of licensed professionals assist on a volunteer basis and new ones are welcome.
“We’re always looking for dental hygienists and licensed professionals wanting to volunteer in the clinic and give back to the community,” Vavra says.
Patients not only receive dental care at no cost to them, they are educated about oral health – such as flossing and fluoride applications. It’s an important component to each visit.
“Our main focus is to educate them about their dental needs and also to tell them about the relationship between dental health and overall health,” Dr. Ommar says, adding that patients are also referred to nearby community clinics so they can be checked by a physician on a regular basis.
Steps to great dental health
- Brush twice a day
- Floss once a day
- Get regular dental checks at least every six months
- Get X-rays annually
- Drink fluoridated water
- Quit smoking
- Eat a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables
- Steer clear of soda, juice and sports drinks
- Exercise regularly
- Manage medical conditions
“NCH is committed to supporting the overall health of the underserved in the community, adds Vavra. “We’re an oral health home for our patients.”
The Mobile Dental Clinic operates Monday through Friday, year round. For more information and to schedule an appointment, please contact your township:
Elk Grove Township
If you are a licensed dental professional interested in volunteering, call Jessica Vavra at 847-618-5573 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To donate to the Mobile Dental Clinic, contact the NCH Foundation at email@example.com or call 847-618-4260.