MOCH mobile dental bus program got its early start in Ozark County

MOCH Dental Bus

By Jessi Dreckman,
[email protected]

The big, bright sea life-painted facade of the Missouri Ozarks Community Health dental bus is a head-turner, but it’s the work that occurs inside the dental bus that’s the real star of the show.

The dental bus serves more than 18 schools in its four-county service area and provides services for nearly 1,000 kids each year. But the original program, aimed at providing dental services to school children, had more humble beginnings right here in Ozark County.

“Several years ago, we participated in a grant with one of the school nurses in Ozark County, Kristi Williams. She wrote a grant that allowed us to provide dental exams, cleaning, and sealants in our clinics to elementary children in our service area,” MOCH Dental Director Dr. Sybil Fortner told the Times.

In its initial phases, Ozark County children rode school buses to the MOCH clinics where they were seen and received dental care. It eventually expanded service to Douglas County, and then to Wright County.

When that grant was finished, MOCH purchased mobile dental equipment that allowed the providers to travel to the schools to provide services inside the schools.

“There were portable chairs and dental units that we would transport in a trailer… we would wheel everything in and out of each school,” Fortner said. “The portable equipment allowed us to provide a lot of care, but it was not ergonomic and just more difficult to deal with at times.”

The providers were able to visit a few schools to provide services that way, but they were limited due to equipment and scheduling. There were portable chairs and dental units that we would transport in a trailer and wheel everything in and out of the school.

MOCH then applied for a grant program in 2018 offered by the Missouri Foundation for Health’s opportunity fund with a dream of purchasing a dental truck or bus that could take their program with the schools to the next level.

“We were awarded the grant and were able to add some of our own funds to help purchase the dental bus. It has allowed us to increase the number of schools and amount of children we are able to see,” Forntner said.

The bus now visits nearly two dozen schools in Ozark, Douglas, Wright, and Texas Counties, serving clients from pre-k to high school. In addition to regular public school districts, the bus also visits some HeadStart programs and a few other facilities.

During the 2023-24 school year, 991 children were treated on the dental bus, receiving services that included exams, cleaning, x-rays, sealants, fluoride, fillings, crowns, and extractions. In Ozark County, all five schools (Bakersfield, Dora, Gainesville, Lutie, and Thornfield) participate in the program.

Fortner serves as the dentist on the bus and works with two dental assistants, Karsyn Allen, and Rebecca Nelson, on a regular basis, although all of the dental assistants within the MOCH clinics help at times on the bus as needed. “It’s a team effort,” Fortner said. Sheena Holt serves as the dental bus coordinator, scheduling site visits, delivering forms, completing follow-up calls, and pitching in other ways as needed.

The services provided do not cost the students’ parents a dime, MOCH officials say.

“If we have the insurance information available for the child, we will bill the insurance on file. With that said, there is never a bill sent to the parents of children seen on the bus, as it is our mission to see all children, regardless of their ability to pay,” said Randall Gann, CFO. “To help offset the costs associated with this charity care, we established the Missouri Ozarks Children’s Health Fund, an investment portfolio that focuses on providing care to the children of our service area at no cost to the children or parents.”

Fortner says the children all seem to love the unique experience of having their dental appointment inside the bus. It’s decked out with a TV mounted to the ceiling, so kids can watch movies while they are having their dental visit. They often ask if she lives inside the bus, but she’s quick to tell them that while it’s the perfect spot for her work, it isn’t quite as comfortable as a home. But they seem impressed to learn that she is actually the one who drives the bus.

To find out more about the MOCH dental bus, contact Dental Bus Coordinator Sheena Holt by calling MOCH at 417-683-5739.

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Lacy Monteleone

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