ELLSWORTH — The “traveling dental circus” was in Ellsworth on Friday in the Mill Mall parking lot. The custom bus, fully outfitted for mobile dentistry, was formerly in use as a computer lab in Texas, said Dr. Timothy Oh, director of the nonprofit Caring Hands of Maine Dental Center in Ellsworth.
Staff from the center flew to Texas last year and drove the bus back to Maine, said Oh, who did much of the rehabilitation work himself, installing dental chairs, a sink and cabinets. There is an X-ray setup in the corner and the cabinets are stocked with dental equipment.
“It’s a fully functional dental office,” said Oh. “It just rolls.”
Caring Hands of Maine Dental Center has had a mobile unit traveling Hancock and Aroostook counties since 2010, but the new bus has simplified the process. Before they had this setup, said Oh, staff would pack dental equipment into cars and vans and create an office anywhere they could find.
Staff can perform all manner of procedures aboard the mobile unit, from fillings to extractions and root canals, if necessary (although they often send patients to their offices for more complicated procedures).
“We’re trying to break down barriers for people to get care,” said Oh.
The clinic has a particular focus on children.
“We’re trying to train kids to have a positive experience,” said Oh. The mood inside is light, with stuffed animals and kid’s posters lining the walls, and young patients are encouraged to “play dentist” with the stuffed dinosaurs.
“We are goofy. We try to have fun with them.”
The aim, said Oh, is to help children become comfortable with going to the dentist and avoid “having them need more advanced or extensive care” in the future.
Caring Hands of Maine Dental Center visits an average of 30 sites per year around the state with its mobile unit, including some of the islands. The clinic is “open door as much as possible,” said Oh, and accepts most insurance, as well as partnering with local agencies to coordinate the provision of care.