Helping People Smile

Dec 12, 2023

Helping People Smile

By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer

Karl sat fidgeting, ready to put his hat back on and head out the door of the MobileSmiles Oklahoma bus. He had only been to dentists a handful of times in his adult life, and the resulting poor condition of his teeth had kept him from smiling in photos for 18 years. When he did laugh around people, he saw their expressions. He would get up and leave.

But Karl stayed in the dental exam chair in the RV-style mobile dental care facility as the MobileSmiles team talked to him. He agreed to a cleaning.

During it, the dentist noted the cavities in Karl’s front teeth and asked if he would like them filled. Karl said yes.

He left the MobileSmiles bus in tears. Not from pain, but in joy because he was finally able to smile.

“To see this bus come to me, to have people here and as happy as they are to help me—it changed my life,” Karl said. “I have a reason to take care of my teeth because the MobileSmiles team took care of me. They’ve encouraged me to be better about my dental health. Now, I feel good when I look in the mirror.”

Karl is one of approximately 1300 patients served annually inside the Oklahoma Dental Foundation’s MobileSmiles Oklahoma units that travel throughout the state. The units are outfitted as fully functioning dentist offices and have wheelchair lifts to get any patient into the bus. Their services include advance screenings, fillings, extraction, preventive care (cleanings, sealants and fluoride varnish), oral health education, and tobacco cessation education.

The MobileSmiles units travel into Bryan and Marshall counties, two of the counties in the Texoma Health Foundation (THF) communities. Funding through THF has gone toward the creation of the mobile units and site visits in our service counties.

Some of the staff are volunteers, and the foundation also partners with the OU College of Dentistry and often hosts two 4th year dental students on-site visits. The foundation’s dentist is present and works as a preceptor overseeing the work of the students.

“We are giving the students the real-world practice they need, exposing them to rural dental care needs,” says Jill Woodzell, Program Manager of MobileSmiles Oklahoma. “We are giving them the opportunity to hopefully want to start a practice in one of these areas where the need is great.”

Jill worked in nonprofits for years prior to coming on board at the Oklahoma Dental Foundation.

“This one drew me in,” Jill says. “I get phone calls from people needing dental help and they don’t know where to turn. It’s rewarding to have an answer, to direct people to the help they need. It feels good to be a part of the solution.”

Among the MobileSmiles site partners in Bryan and Marshall counties are the Southern Oklahoma Development Association out of Madill & Durant, Lighthouse Behavioral Wellness Centers in Calera, and Elite Counseling in Kingston. They also work with churches, rescue missions, veteran organizations, and more to reach deep into each community.

Through the site partners and funding from sources like THF, patients are never charged for dental work, nor the smiles that work can bring.