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Resources | OHI Toolkit | Option 2: Currently Offers On-Site Dental Services | Expansion/Addition of Off-Site Direct Services | Mobile Dental Units / Portable Dental Programs


Resources | OHI Toolkit | Option 2: Currently Offers On-Site Dental Services | Expansion/Addition of Off-Site Direct Services

Health centers may consider the option of a mobile dental unit or a program using portable dental equipment to expand off-site direct dental services outside of a traditional fixed dental clinic. Health centers can use this checklist in planning for a mobile program or program using portable dental equipment.

  • Build the case and get support for a mobile, portable, or hybrid program to expand oral health services, especially in rural areas experiencing access barriers. The National Rural Health Resource Center has resources for improving oral health care services in rural areas including dental health provider shortage areas.

  • Determine the setting (e.g., school, homeless shelter, residential facilities, long term care facilities, primary care medical clinic) and delivery model (e.g., mobile, portable, or hybrid program) through a needs assessment. This Dental Clinic Comparison Chart provides the pros, cons, capacity, and costs between fixed clinics, mobile clinics, and clinics using portable equipment.

  • Establish goals and objectives for the program.

  • Establish community partnerships.

  • For mobile dental programs, access the Mobile-Portable Dental Manual (Chapter 2) to learn about how to get started, van structural considerations, vehicle design, building and delivering the vehicle, staffing, program operations, and financing. The HRSA OHI funding can be used to purchase a new or enhance an existing mobile unit.

  • For programs using portable equipment, access the Mobile-Portable Dental Manual (Chapter 3) to learn about considerations on patient population, site coordinators, design and transportation, staffing, program operations, risk management, and financing. The HRSA OHI funding can be used to purchase portable dental equipment and supplies to provide preventive dental services in other settings accessible to the patient population (e.g., schools, community organizations, homeless shelters).

  • Determine the health IT system and how the mobile dental unit or portable equipment program will handle patient records. It is critical that mobile/portable dental units are able to access and integrate electronic dental records (EDR). Health Center Controlled Networks (HCCN) provide HIT support to health centers. The NACHC Network Resource Guide provides information about HCCN support capabilities and services.

  • Establish quality assurance/improvement and patient safety protocol and processes. The Organization for Safety, Asepsis and Prevention (OSAP) is a resource for patient safety in the mobile/portable dental settings. OSAP offers resources such as a checklist and a fact sheet for infection control in mobile/portable dental units.

  • Establish an ongoing program evaluation and quality improvement process.

For more information on these steps, access the Mobile-Portable Dental Manual, a comprehensive manual that explains how to develop and operate a mobile or portable dental program. The California Primary Care Association‘s technical assistance guide, Increasing Access to Oral Health provides an overview of models that can be used to increase access to oral health including new service delivery models such as intermittent and non-traditional dental sites.

A NNOHA promising practice, Adding Restorative Care to Health Center Mobile Dental Programs describes a health center’s experience in adding restorative care to their health center’s mobile dental program.  Another NNOHA promising practice, Implementing Mobile Dental Services in an Elder Care Facility, discusses a health center’s experience in using mobile dental units to provide care to the elder population.



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NNOHA is the largest group of safety-net oral health practitioners in the country, and our members all share a commitment to increasing access to quality oral health care for underserved populations. NNOHA is committed to providing the highest quality resources and support designed to meet the unique needs of our members and their programs.

Mobile Dental Units / Portable Dental Programs

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