| Part Two
By: Jean Johnson for Dental1
In Part One of our story we focused on the charitable aspects of the mobile dentistry clinic movement which came of age by making dental care accessible to underserved communities of children. Ever the vigilant innovators, though, over the past two decades American businesspeople have explored the possibility of making mobile dental offices a paying proposition.
From Donated Care to Private Practice – Las Vegas, Phoenix, Silicon Valley and Beyond
Currently mobile dental units where workers can get their teeth cleaned or a tooth filled in an efficient 30 minutes are parked only in the mega-asphalt lots of selected companies that employ enough workers to make the service pencil out.
If one businessman’s efforts are any indication, however, bringing rolling dental offices into the black side of the ledger will continue to be a tricky maneuver. Chris Davenport has been in the business since 1999 and is based in Las Vegas where his company called On-Site Dental has two mobile units that each holds two dental offices.
As he told the New York Times in an August 2006 article focused on trends in the west, “A fully-equipped van can cost $450,000.” Davenport also added that at one point he had to back pedal, selling off one van that he bought prematurely and even taking a second mortgage on his home and lines of credit to keep his dream of a viable company alive.
|Quick dental health facts from Reachout Healthcare America (RHA):|
Neglecting one’s dental health creates many problems that may not be obvious. Research has proven that poor dental health can be the underlying cause of:
Life-threatening health issues, among them stroke and heart failure.
Dental disease, which contributes to the loss of teeth and need for tooth replacement at a young age.
Severe pain that may require emergency room treatment.
Oral cancer, which is diagnosed in more than 30,000 American adults annually.
Indeed, Davenport believes the basic idea of “parking-lot dentistry” is one whose time has come. Americans are increasingly busy with not enough hours in the day to manage work and family, let alone the social side of life that is supposed to be the pay off for the nation’s high productivity. So particularly with something like a dental visit that tends to be one of those must-dos that doesn’t inspire one to put it at the top of the list, making the chore easy – and devoid of traffic jams – might just turn out to be win-win situation for all involved.
The MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas that Davenport currently serves, for example, has a cool 9,000 employees. Both the workforce and management appreciate the arrangement that streamlines the time spent away from work to 20 or 30 minutes.
“I’d have to take three hours at least if I had to drive to an office,” Beverly Egan, poker dealer at the Stardust Resort and Casino where On-Site Dental also sends its dental vans explained to the Times. Samantha Taube who trains employees and got her own teeth cleaned with a mere 20 minutes away from the office agrees. “If you know Las Vegas traffic these days, you know what a benefit this is,” she told the paper.
Reachout Healthcare America of Phoenix started with mobile dental offices focused on serving schools and military bases and offices. Currently the company offers mobile clinics to schools and children’s programs in Arizona, Kansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada and Wisconsin. Additionally Reachout Healthcare America is expanding this aspect of its business to include Alabama, California, Oklahoma and Tennessee. And on the military side, the company has mobile offices that travel to “military sites in all states.”
Not to be left behind, of course, the folks at Reachout Healthcare are now targeting the corporate niche with their mobile dental programs. “Our ‘Dentist At Work’ program is designed to provide cost-effective dental services on-site, at your location at not cost to the employer. Dentist At Work improves employee health, increases productivity and employee satisfaction,” states the company’s Web site. “This is truly low-hanging fruit for an employer wishing to add a benefit of high value at no incremental cost.”
If the expansion of On Site Dental Care that started in 1996 in Silicon Valley and is no relation to the Las Vegas firm owned by Davenport, is any indication, employers and employees are agreeing that mobile dental clinics are a good deal. The California company owns nine units and needs nothing more than 60 feet of parking space; a power supply, phone line, and web access; and “reasonable and approved access to employees in a manner consistent with the company’s corporate culture” to set up shop.
In particular, the major supplier of networking equipment and network management that is at the heart of the Internet, Cisco Systems, has seen the wisdom of On Site Dental Care’s services. The dentistry company currently has units that serve massive numbers of employees at Cisco campuses in Morrisville, North Carolina, as well as two sites in Texas at Richardson and Austin.
Clearly, there is a critical mass in terms of numbers of employees or potential patients that’s required for mobile dental clinics to operate successfully. Also, while fillings and cleanings can add up, the more expensive procedures like tooth crowning and various types of cosmetic dentistry are those that give rise to more substantial profits and thus will most likely make or break mobile dentistry over the long haul.
It’s all a question of how patients feel about the novel approach to dentistry. While savvy consumers increasingly understand that dentistry has evolved into sub-specialities over the past 30 years, they still look to their general practitioners for handling the majority of their dental health needs. Thus, parking lot dentistry will most likely have to demonstrate that it is up to this challenge before patients will start placing their allegiance in dentists and hygienists that have tools and will travel.