Similar to food trucks, where the food kind of comes to you, mobile dental units are used to expand access to care in hard-to-reach, low-income and other communities in need.
Proposals in the Legislature aim to help them expand their reach even more. The bills would allow all of what’s known as “Health Access Settings” or state programs or institutions, and accredited dental hygiene programs to be able to be able to contract with mobile dental units.
Chante Miller, a certified registered dental hygienist, said the change is welcomed because it is common for Health Access Settings such as a Head Start Center to be located 15 to 20 miles away from a brick-and-mortar dentist, and parents often cannot navigate coordinating transportation with their work schedules.
“They wouldn’t be able to afford to take off missing a day’s pay,” Miller explained. “That’s why it’s important to have mobile units that have the ability to go where those children are and families are to provide services to them instead.”
The proposal has a long list of supporters encouraging lawmakers to support the change, such as the Florida Dental Hygienists Association and Floridians for Dental Access. However, the Florida Dental Association, which is in communication with those organizations, said it is monitoring “to ensure that policies are not being implemented that could compromise mobile dental bus programs that are currently in place and effectively reaching communities.”
The proposal also clarifies the definition of a mobile dental unit and Miller pointed out it does not expand the scope of practice for dental hygienists. In fact, she noted some of the units can have just about everything you would find in a dental office, and some of them just have the essentials to provide basic hygiene care.
“They are able to get work without the presence of a dentist and those Health Access Settings, so if they are on the mobile unit, they can provide those health-access services to Head Start Centers without a dentist being present,” Miller emphasized. “Of course, for follow-up care, we refer them back to a dentist.”
Miller and others are hoping the proposal will advance in committees. It also calls for the Board of Dentistry to require persons applying to take dental hygiene examinations to maintain medical malpractice insurance in certain amounts. Florida leads the nation in the number of individuals living in Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas, with nearly six million.