Adorned on the outside with children's smiling faces, the PENNSmiles van is designed on the inside to bring dental-care services to schoolchildren whose smiles might not be so healthy.
The PENNSmiles van, a 40-foot long, 11-foot wide custom-made RV, complete with two fully equipped dental suites, is the newest community outreach initiative of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. Thanks to grants from the Health Resources Services Administration and the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Penn Dental personnel can now take mobile oral health care to those neighborhoods that need it most.
The PENNSmiles van will debut at a special dedication Monday, March 3, at the Henry Lea School, 47th and Locust streets, beginning with an assembly at 9:30 a.m. in the school auditorium. Tours of the van and brief dental-care education programs for both children and their parents will follow.
"Maintaining a strong community presence is part of the Dental School's mission, and we are very pleased to be able to expand our efforts in this way," said Raymond Fonseca, the dean. "It is very important for us to not only provide access to care to those children who otherwise would not be able to get it, but also to strengthen our ongoing relationship with the Philadelphia School District."
Working with the School District, Penn Dental has been providing oral health education, screenings and referral services to West Philadelphia children in their schools for five years through the University's Center for Community Partnerships. A study by the CCP identified oral health care as a pressing need in this part of the city.
"What we have found from our work with the School District underscores the vital need for the expanded resources that PENNSmiles will offer," said Joan Gluch, director of Community Health and principal investigator for PENNSmiles. "A pilot study of six schools in West Philadelphia revealed that 68 percent of the children screened showed evidence of dental decay and other oral health problems that required dental care."
"That is significantly higher than the national statistics," Gluch said. "We are excited about helping to meet the oral health-care needs of the community through this program."
The PENNSmiles program launched its screenings and classroom educational components in September 2001. In just 18 months, Penn Dental faculty and students have seen more than 10,000 children in 73 schools.
The van now enables Penn Dental staff to add services such as cleanings, fluoride treatments, sealants and basic dental fillings. The van is a mobile dental "office," custom designed with two dental operatories, digital radiography equipment, computer access and a separate waiting area with a VCR/DVD player for educational use. In addition to the driver, it will be staffed by Penn Dental faculty, residents and third- and fourth-year dental students.
"The mobile dental van will be an extension of the dental school," Gluch said. "Students and faculty will employ all the same policies and procedures as in any other School clinic. The PENNSmiles van will provide a valuable setting for expanding our students' clinical and community-based education while providing much-needed care to children in the community."
The PENNSmiles program targets children in kindergarten through eighth grades in West Philadelphia.