Dental H.O.M.E. Coach Brings Care to the Community

By Melinda CassidyOSU dentists provide care on the HOME Coach

For the 19 percent of Ohio children without dental insurance, Ohio State has one program that will make many of them smile.

The Ohio State University’s Dental H.O.M.E. (Health Outreach Mobile Experience) Coach, a dental office in an RV, travels to various Columbus City Schools throughout the year to provide dental exams, X-rays, diagnoses, cleanings and extractions to the underserved youngsters of Central Ohio – free of charge.

Initially a mere idea, the Coach came to fruition following significant research and discussions between several community and healthcare entities including Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus Public Health and Ohio State’s College of Dentistry, as well as funding provided by the Columbus-based Osteopathic Heritage Foundation.

Although the dental Coach is unique to Ohio State, it’s not the first vehicle to operate in a medical capacity.

“For many years there have been, in isolated and rural areas, retrofitted recreational vehicles that would go to an area and park and dispense basic medical care,” said Canise Bean, a clinical professor of Dentistry and director of the Dental H.O.M.E. Coach. “So we felt if those types of services can be provided on wheels, why not dental care as well? It wasn’t novel or new to the healthcare delivery scene, but it was something that was never really acted upon at the College of Dentistry.”

Although 39 percent of Ohio adults – or 3.4 million – lack dental insurance, the focus of the Coach has been on the pearly whites of Columbus’ children since its 2005 inception, due in part to the impressionable nature of kids.

“Children are a very vulnerable population,” Bean said. “If we can get to them early and emphasize the preventative nature that can be attained with proper home care and twice-a-year professional dental care, the outcomes could be far-reaching.”

As it stands, more than half of Ohio’s children will experience tooth decay prior to entering third grade, according to a 2011 report from the Ohio Department of Health.

Picture of the HOME Coach

Further, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry reported tooth decay as the most common chronic childhood disease, as it is four times more common than childhood obesity and five times more common than asthma.

But the Coach services more than just the children that climb its steps. Fourth-year dental students rotate through the Coach, honing their professional skills and building a confidence and camaraderie with pediatric patients.

Jason Hyde, a fourth-year student in dentistry, participated on the Coach a handful of times from fall 2013 to present and said his experiences have given him a better idea of professional practice.

“It (gave) me a sense of ‘real life dentistry’ and volunteerism that I would like to implement and continue once in a private practice and dental school is over,” he said.

But Hyde said the most rewarding aspect of his time on the Coach is seeing the reactions of patients.

“Every time … there is someone who is extremely grateful to have your help,” Hyde said. “There have been countless ‘thanks’ because we have restored functionality to teeth and helped improve a patient’s comfort and smile.”

Child gets instructions on how to brushAside from travelling to Columbus schools, Ohio residents can also find the Coach at other community events, including the recent “Picnic of Hope,” where Columbus’ homeless population received care from students and the Coach staff as well as haircuts, food, clothing, basic health screenings and optometry care from other providers.

The Coach will also attend the “10th Annual African American Wellness Walk” on Aug. 9.

While Bean said she is proud of what has been accomplished through the Dental H.O.M.E. Coach, she said she doesn’t want to become complacent and believe that access to dental care for children in Columbus has been solved.

“I hope for continuation and growth,” she said. “Growth in terms of kids being reached, and perhaps even growth to include additional vehicles that can offer care to more kids.”