Mobile Dental Clinic Offers Specialty Care Around the Midstate
By Chelsea Bailey
About the Author
Chelsea Bailey is the outreach coordinator at Triax Dental. She has been with the company for almost three years and has prior experience working with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities as a community living support staff person in Lexington, KY, and an independent support coordinator in Nashville.
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Individuals with disabilities are at greater risk for poor oral health than people in the general population, according to research, and poor oral health can be an obstacle to getting a job.[i] There are multiple reasons for this higher risk. Some individuals are unable to brush their teeth on their own, some have sensory sensitivities that make brushing and flossing difficult, and some have medical conditions that affect their teeth or mouths. Also, finding a dentist willing and able to provide services can be difficult.
We know that poor oral health can lead to major health conditions like cardiovascular disease, respiratory infections and diabetic complications and can therefore threaten an individual’s ability to work and to enjoy life. Additionally, poor oral health can create barriers to working and participation in the community due to effects on physical appearance and confidence.[ii] For instance, not smiling is ranked as the No. 3 mistake during job interviews.[iii] The dental health of Tennesseans in general is among the worst in the nation.[iv] At Triax Dental, we recognize the risks of poor oral health and have committed to becoming one of the solutions.
Triax began just over three years ago with a handful of people and a borrowed mobile clinic. We have now grown to three dentists, more than 1,300 patients, a mobile clinic of our own and a brick-and-mortar office, which opened in February 2017.
You can find our mission in big, blue letters on the side of our mobile unit: “Dental Care for Special Needs.” Since the beginning, we have focused on treating patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Though our primary focus and experience has been with patients with IDD, we do not work exclusively with this population. We are a growing company, and as we continue to grow, we expect our patient base to grow as well.
To our knowledge, we are the only for-profit mobile clinic that provides comprehensive dentistry in Tennessee that operates full-time. There are probably several reasons that we are a unique operation, but one reason we know for sure is that it is hard. It is hard financially and logistically. But it is also rewarding and effective. Our mobile unit operation eliminates issues regarding transportation for patients. Many of our patients living in Middle Tennessee are located at least an hour from Nashville. Prior to our mobile operation, the only options for sedation dental care that accepted Medicaid waiver funds—the funding source for the majority of our patients—was in Nashville. (They also are able to accept some referrals for TennCare, primarily those patients 18 to 20 who have some barrier to service with other general dentistry practices.) Our unit travels to outlying areas such as Clarksville, Columbia, Cookeville, Gallatin, Lebanon, Murfreesboro and Tullahoma, often treating at community-based day centers.
The mobile unit is also a good option for patients who have a fear of going to the dentist. We often park our unit at community-based day centers where many of our patients are comfortable and regularly attend. For those patients, our mobile unit eliminates a trip to a dental office. The patient may go to his or her day center, step out in the parking lot for an appointment, and return to the day’s activities as usual. A dental visit like this is much less intrusive to a person’s schedule than a visit to a standard dental office.
We are in our first month of treating from a brick-and-mortar office in addition to the mobile unit. This new opportunity allows us to have additional availability for patients every week in case of emergencies or a desire to have an appointment at a time in which we are not in a patient’s area in the mobile unit. We are now treating our patients in and around Nashville at this location and are very excited about this step for Triax! A mobile practice is not ideal or an option for all patients. The opening of our new office allows us to have more flexibility for our patients.
Because many of our patients have complex medical diagnoses, the ability to provide sedation in both our mobile unit and our offices is crucial. About 40% of our patients require light conscious IV sedation. Dr. Michael Vaughan is our chief dental officer and holds a comprehensive conscious sedation license to use both oral and IV conscious sedation in his dentistry practice. Our current full-time dentists, Dr. Sheena Vaswani and Dr. Sagar Shah, also hold comprehensive conscious sedation licenses.
Triax is committed to serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities along with others who have difficulty accessing dental care for whatever reason. We provide comprehensive dental services and strive to be leaders in providing compassionate care. We are still growing and have a long road ahead of us with inevitable bumps along the way, but remain focused on our mission to provide dental care for those with special needs.
[i] Hall, J.P., Chapman, S.C., & Kurth, N.K. (2013). Poor oral health as an obstacle to employment for Medicaid beneficiaries with disabilities. Journal of Public Health Dentistry, (1), 79. doi:10.1111/j.1752-7325-2012.00359.
[ii] Aleccia, J. (2013). Bad teeth, broken dreams: Lack of dental care keeps many out of jobs. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/feature/in-plain-sight/bad-teeth-broken-dreams-lack-dental-care-keeps-many-out-v18906511
[iii] Barth, C. (2016). From the community: Prosthodontists: Do missing teeth kill job prospects? Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/promotions/chi-ugc-article-prosthodontists-do-missing-teeth-kill-job-pr-2016-04-25-story.html
[iv] Barber, T. (2012). Tennessee dental health among nation’s worst. Times Free Press. Retrieved from http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/news/story/2012/may/21/tennessee-dental-health-among-nations/78384/