Clarice Yentsch and Wally Smith are on a mission to create healthy smiles in the Keys. They’re fundraising to get a mobile dental clinic — essentially a bus tricked-out with dental equipment and exam chairs — to travel between schools and provide high quality, free dental care to kids throughout Monroe County.
The unlikely pair — a biological oceanographer and an entrepreneurial dentist, respectively — collaborate through Yentsch’s private, not for profit foundation, the Waypoint Foundation (TWF).
“The mission of Waypoint is to celebrate human creativity,” said Yentsch. “We focus on education, exhibitions and collaborations to address unmet needs in the Florida Keys.” Past foundation initiatives include music therapy, an exhibit on Vietnam by a veteran, and a collection of meaningful ways to say goodbye, written by a hospice worker.
The Mobile Smile Maker initiative advocates for critical dental resources for disadvantaged students. As part of the initiative, the foundation will host a dental health exhibit at Key Largo library the entire month of February as well as a Dental Fair on Feb. 14. The crux of the initiative is the mobile clinic itself.
The total cost to purchase a used, 2-operatory-chair mobile clinic is $125,000. “Think about a blood-donation-mobile; that’s what they are like,” suggests Smith.
Smith is no stranger to mobile dental clinics. The dentist started and ran a similar, successful mobile clinic 20 years ago in rural North Carolina to take care of disadvantaged children. When Yentsch learned about Smith’s public service health background and history with mobile community dentistry, she immediately said, “That’s very cool. Let’s do something together.” A year later, Smith was brought on as the foundation’s official volunteer dental consultant to start up the Mobile Smile Maker initiative.
The need for such services is great, said Yentsch. “We only have 20 dentists here, and only one takes Medicaid. So, a lot of kids don’t get dental care. They aren’t being seen.”
Currently, local dental care for impoverished youths is limited to the Florida Keys Area Health Education Center Inc. (AHEC) dental sealant program. The program is limited, serving around 700 students a year and only seeing kids in the 2nd and 7th grades.
Smith articulates the problem with this system. “They can identify problems, but they can’t provide solutions,” he laments. “They only do sealants, and then the parent has to find another dentist to do the work and that’s the hard part.”
Smith hopes to replicate his North Carolina success to serve way more kids every year with the mobile dental clinic. He adds, “The initial thrust will be to take care of the youngest kids first. If you can intercede with kids with dental problems early, you can save them from really complex problems later in life.”
AHEC will remain intimately involved. Operationally, the foundation plans to turn over the reins to AHEC, which will coordinate appointment sign-ups at schools and enlist dental health professionals to work in the mobile clinic. Smith said, “AHEC has $200,000 grant funding now to hire and pay dentists, hygienists and assistants for 2021 and to buy supplies. They already have the human resources, so the only missing link in this collaboration is the mobile clinic.”
That’s where the foundation is stepping in to purchase a mobile clinic. Smith says, “We’re trying to raise funds, and Waypoint will purchase and provide the mobile clinic to AHEC to move from school to school. We will provide the clinic, they will provide the services, and we will provide oversight and education because that’s the other critical component.”
The Waypoint Foundation is targeting the 2021-22 school year for the mobile clinic launch. A 1:12 scale model of the mobile dental clinic will be displayed and featured at the Feb. 14 dental fair and intermittently at Key Largo Library. For more information about the Smile Maker initiative or to make a donation, visit www.mobilesmilemaker.org/.