Global Health Nexus, Spring 2000

"Smiling Faces, Going Places" New York University
College of Dentistry Launches Dental Van

Even the most jaded New Yorkers were caught smiling when New York University College of Dentistry's new community dental van, "Smiling Faces, Going Places," hit the road in January. The NYU van is the first dental facility on wheels to travel throughout New York City and beyond to treat children and adults in areas where access to oral health care is poor.

Calling the van "NYU Dentistry's gift to the people of New York," Dean Michael C. Alfano said, "The van gives NYU the opportunity to provide preventive services and education, as well as immediate dental care, to children and others residing in federally designated health-professional shortage areas. In addition, it provides an effective means of informing low-income families about the recently expanded availability and new dental benefits of New York State's insurance plan for low-income families -- Child Health Plus -- and helps them enroll in this plan or in the Medicaid program, thereby enabling children in such families to begin receiving care on a regular basis."

Monday through Friday, the van travels to a community-based site, typically a public school. The van is equip-ped with four dental units (two units for use in the van and two portable units for use in a given facility), X-ray equipment, and a sterilization area. Care is provided by a faculty member, four senior and/or postdoctoral students, and a dental assistant.

It is estimated that the "Smiling Faces, Going Places" van will provide care for more than 1,500 children and others annually. According to Associate Dean Stuart M. Hirsch, who designed the vehicle and its support programs, the community response has been overwhelming. "Everyone we contact, at schools, Head Start centers, and other community locations, has reacted enthusiastically. In fact, one entire school district in Brooklyn -- 25 schools -- has asked for our services. And kids love climbing aboard the van to receive care."

"By bringing the van's services directly to New York's neediest communities," says Dean Alfano, "NYU College of Dentistry is helping to remove some of the barriers that low-income people face in getting access to dental care. As a result, thousands of children and their families are being saved from the chronic infection, tooth loss, and accompanying low self-esteem that might otherwise mar their lives and potential. In addition, several members of the staff on the van, including Dr. Anthony Johnson, are minority Americans. Thus, they not only provide great care, but they serve as role models for minority children who participate in the program. The smiling faces of the children we treat are what our slogan 'Smiling Faces, Going Places,' is all about. Thanks to the van, these children can look forward to much brighter futures than ever before."