A mobile dental unit is providing care for underserved communities in Marion County
The Langley Mobile Dental Unit has served hundreds of patients over five years. Some are uninsured, others are homeless, low-income or migrant workers, and others are dealing with mental illness or addictions.
The Langley Mobile Dental Unit is a federally funded mobile van that offers free dental services to Marion County residents.
The mobile dental unit has served hundreds of patients in the five years it’s been running, according to operations director Paul Quinn. He said some patients are uninsured. Others are homeless, low-income or migrant workers. Still, more are patients with mental illness or battling drug addiction.
For all 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 first opened its doors.
“This is the single most important project I’ve worked on. Finding free dental care is a nightmare,” Quinn said. “Dental care is nonexistent for people who don’t have money or insurance.”
The team strives to offer well-rounded dental care — anything from cleanings and fillings to tooth extractions and X-ray exams. Designated as a Federally Qualified Health Center, or FQHC, the unit receives federal funding to provide care to underserved communities.
One dental assistant, Chiquita Brewton, said that before working for the mobile dental unit she worked for the health department specializing in pediatric care and a private dental practice.
“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 much we positively affect the lives of others – it’s amazing, it’s the best feeling.”
Nearly 25% of Americans live without dental insurance, according to a 2019 report by the University of Illinois College of Dentistry.
That means that dental treatment is out of reach for nearly 74 million Americans.
“The stuff that we take for granted is sometimes completely out of reach for others,” Quinn said.
AUDIO: Paul Quinn talks about the plight of people living without dental care
One study by Cigna Health and Life Insurance found that adults who fail to receive preventative treatments can anticipate a 43% increase in their annual dental fees over a one-year period compared to those who routinely receive necessary care.
To help bridge that gap, the Langley Mobile Dental Unit provides dental care to uninsured Marion County residents without the substantial costs.
“For some, the roots were all that were showing … we’ve had a lot of people come here for the dental unit. If they had to go anywhere else they’d have to pay a large number of dollars,” said Dr. Pamela Lewin.
“At one point in time they were coming every Tuesday,” said CEO of the Estella Byrd Whitman Wellness Center Carolyn Adams. “Probably for one day they would do 15 to 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 did.”
While the van no longer visits the Estella Byrd Whitman Wellness Center due to the pandemic, they do visit two locations that continue to serve Marion County residents, Beacon Point — a substance abuse and mental health facility — and St. Theresa’s Catholic Church.
“People would show up between two and three o’clock in the morning and literally go to sleep with their arm looped around the steps of the dental bus so nobody could get ahead of them in the morning,” Quinn said.
Many of the patients coming to the dental van are not looking for preventative care, but rather emergency procedures.
“Patients would try to go to the emergency room, and once they went there they would get referred to us because there was nothing that they could do there for them,” said Dr. Ivonne Velazquez.
“Once we started offering cleanings we [saw] a rise in that procedure. A lot of people aren’t able to go and get the routine cleanings they need so we provide that as well,” Velazquez said.
The van operates Monday through Friday and is staffed with one dentist, two dental assistants and a receptionist on a daily basis. The unit takes walk-ins and schedules follow-up appointments for patients in need of continuous care.
The Langley Mobile Dental Unit has numerous stops, but the schedule is subject to change on a weekly basis. For more information, click here.