The Langley Mobile Dental Unit is a federally funded mobile van that provides free dental services to residents of Marion County.
The mobile dental unit has served hundreds of patients over the five years of operation, according to director of operations Paul Quinn. He said some patients are uninsured. Others are homeless, working poor or migrant workers. Yet there are more patients with mental illness or struggling with drug addiction.
For all of these Marion County patients in different situations, the Langley Mobile Dental Unit is a godsend.
Paul Quinn has worked with Langley Health Services for over 20 years and has been with the van since it opened.
“This is the most important project I have worked on. Finding free dental care is a nightmare, ”Quinn said. “Dental care is non-existent for people who have neither money nor insurance. “
The team strives to provide comprehensive dental care, from cleanings and fillings to tooth extractions and x-ray exams. Designated as a Health center accredited by the federal government, or FQHC, the unit receives federal funding to provide care to underserved communities.
A dental assistant, Chiquita Brewton, said that before working for the mobile dental unit, she worked for the health department specializing in pediatric care and in a private dental office.
“Coming here it’s so amazing to see adults getting the care they need and not having to worry about how they’re going to pay for it,” Brewton said. “Being able to see how positively we affect other people’s lives – it’s amazing, it’s the best feeling.”
Almost 25% of Americans live without dental insurance, according to one University of Illinois College of Dentistry Report 2019.
This means dental care is out of reach for nearly 74 million Americans.
“The things we take for granted are sometimes completely out of reach for others,” Quinn said.
Paul Quinn talks about the plight of people without dental care:
A study of Health and Life Insurance Cigna found that adults who do not receive preventative treatment can anticipate a 43% increase in their annual dental costs over a one-year period compared to those who regularly receive necessary care.
To help fill this gap, the Langley Mobile Dental Unit provides dental care to uninsured residents of Marion County without substantial costs.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Langley Mobile Dental Unit visited the Estella Byrd Whitman Wellness Center in western Ocala – an area classified as medical desert.
“For some the roots were all that showed… we had a lot of people who came here for the dental unit. If they were to go somewhere else, they would have to pay a lot of dollars, ”said Dr Pamela Lewin.
“At one point, they came every Tuesday,” said Carolyn Adams, CEO of Estella Byrd Whitman Wellness Center. “Probably for a day they would do 15-16 extractions. They had a dentist who was really good and I never saw him take a lunch break, he was dedicated to what he was doing.
Although the van no longer visits the Estella Byrd Whitman Wellness Center due to the pandemic, it does visit two locations that continue to serve residents of Marion County, Beacon Point – an addiction and mental health facility – and the St. Theresa Catholic Church.
“People would show up between two and three in the morning and literally fall asleep with their arms wrapped around the dental bus steps so no one could get ahead of them in the morning,” Quinn said.
Many patients who come to the dental van do not seek preventative care, but rather emergency procedures.
“Patients were trying to get to the emergency room, and once they got there, they were referred to us because there was nothing they could do for them,” said Dr Ivonne Velazquez.
“Once we started offering cleaning services, we [saw] an increase in this procedure. A lot of people aren’t able to go and do the routine cleanings they need, so we provide them as well, ”said Velazquez.
The van operates Monday through Friday and is staffed with a dentist, two dental assistants and a receptionist daily. The unit makes walk-in appointments and schedules follow-up appointments for patients requiring continuing care.
The Langley Mobile Dental Unit has many stops, but regularly visits the following locations:
Their schedule is subject to change on a weekly basis. For more information, you can visit their website.