Bringing dental care to Minnesotans (and vice versa)

An illustration of the Mobile Dental Clinic

Illustration: James Yang

Finding a dentist can be a challenge in many rural communities. More than 45 million people in the United States live in areas where there aren’t enough dentists to serve the population, and roughly 10 to 15 percent of Minnesota residents live within so-called Health Professional Shortage Areas.

In 2002 a School of Dentistry faculty member and a UCare administrator were discussing the challenges of serving patients in outstate Minnesota when they hit upon an idea: Why not bring dental services directly to rural communities through a mobile clinic? They pooled their resources and ordered a custom-built bus, and the UCare Mobile Dental Clinic was born.

For more than 15 years, the clinic has been run by Paul Schulz, director of outreach for the U’s School of Dentistry, serving people insured through UCare who lack dental services in their region. Last year it visited 11 sites—more than half in rural Minnesota—providing basic cleanings, fillings, and extractions to more than 1,000 patients.

In addition to helping patients, the clinic provides supervised hands-on experience to U of M students seeking to become dentists, dental hygienists, and dental therapists. Kyle Rasmussen, a senior dentistry student, says he is now considering working in a rural practice. “I’ve found I mesh really well with the rural communities, and the patients tend to connect well with me,” he says.

Overall, the mobile clinic is a win-win for both UCare clients and future dental providers being trained at the U of M, according to Schulz. “We’re treating underserved patients, and we’re showing students what it’s like to live and practice in underserved areas,” he says. “In the short run and the long run, we’re making a difference.”

Another outreach initiative from the School of Dentistry is Give Kids a Smile Day—a student-organized event that offers free dental care for underserved children in our community. Watch a video describing the program.
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities