The Delta Dental Bus has completed its annual visits to Watertown, and the service has broken previous records for young people seen and dental care given.
It is clear that there is a need for more local dental services. And Lake Area Technical College hopes to fill that gap in the years to come.
The Delta Dental Mobile program provides free care for young people from infancy to 21 years old. The traveling bus offers a full range of services, including examinations, cleanings, preventive treatments and cavity fillings. Insurance is not compulsory. Orthodontic work is not provided.
The bus visits Watertown twice a year and is hosted by two separate organizations. United Way organizes a week during the summer and Inter-Lakes Community Action Partnership covers the fall session, which ended on September 23.
June visit breaks previous records
In June, the bus saw 106 young people and provided families with free dental care worth $91,904, according to United Way.
In recent history, summer visits to the Delta Dental Bus have averaged around 50 young people. But last year, the number of young people increased to 90 with $77,908 in dental cleanings and work. Prior to 2021, the average cost of dental work performed on the bus was closer to $30,000, according to United Way.
This year the bus moved from its traditional location at the alternative school to the library for its spring visit.
Laura Hoiten is the new Executive Director of Watertown Area United Way and is excited about the new location and partnership with the library.
“I think we saw bigger numbers because we moved to a more visible location,” Hoiten said. “School was a great place and a good fit. But the library is a better place with the public coming and going.
The change led to an increase in walk-in traffic, and Hoiten said there were more parents looking for an opportunity to fill canceled appointments or be on the roster for the year. next. The visibility helped raise awareness of the Delta Dental Bus and encouraged people visiting the bus to check out the resources available at the library, she said.
Autumn figures also show an increase in dental care needs
In the fall, buses park at Lake Area Technical College. This visit also saw an increase this year, with 41 youth served and $45,533 in dental care provided. More than $21,000 was spent on restorative procedures, including cavity fillings, crowns and extractions, according to Inter-Lakes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the number of minors seen, bringing the number down to around 30 in the past two years, from where it was previously closer to 50. Now the number of visits is on the rise.
The stop in Lake Area offers students the opportunity to tour the bus and learn how it provides education and preventive dental care. It also helps foster the future of dental care by providing education for dental students.
“This year they had a dental student from the University of South Dakota who will be a dentist (who helped on the bus). She was getting training,” said Kathy Dargatz of Inter-Lakes.
She said some lake area students visited the bus for dental treatment last month.
Lake Area hopes to open a dental clinic on campus
Given the demand for care, the Lake Area Dental Assisting Program could provide additional, affordable dental services to the area while educating students.
Dental assistant instructor Nicole Pahl said she hopes to have enough space on campus and the funds to establish a clinic that will provide dental care on a sliding scale.
“We would like to help you. We know there is a huge need,” Pahl said.
With the campus undergoing a major expansion, the dental assistant program will also receive updates, although they are not expected for a few years. Pahl wants a clinic to be part of the planned updates for the program.
“Kids can be seen on the bus and they can see kids here in town, but there aren’t many places to go for adults (who) don’t have dental insurance or are on Medicaid. . We would like to meet that need at some point,” she said.
Many dental schools across the country have on-campus clinics where they see community members. Pahl said she hopes Watertown will be able to provide this service and allow students to get hands-on training.
“We could use more dental assistants. We would like to train more people to meet this growing need in the state,” she said.