The old Craven County Smilemobile is dead. Long live the new one.
The Craven County Health Department introduced its new $500,000, three-seater Smile Mobile on Friday, pulling into the Havelock Elementary School parking lot to clean, floss, X-ray and drill the loosely 1,600 teeth of 50 students.
County Health Director Scott Harrelson was on hand to see how the day went as Dr. Elizabeth Swicegood and her four-woman team of three dental assistants and one office manager performed their jobs.
Harrelson said the new “Smilemobile,” a specially-rigged tractor trailer, replaces the one the county had been using for 20 years. Although that one had been refurbished a time or two, he said, it was time for a new one.
He added that, while the trailer would have cost $500,000 fully equipped, the county was able to save some money by moving a few items such as a panoramic X-ray from the old one, along with selling the old model to Washington County for $100,000. The total cost came in at less than $300,000.
And that, he said, wasn’t with county money: The program pays for itself by billing Medicaid and Health Choice for its work.
The trailer is stocked with updated equipment and also has three chairs, rather than the two of the previous mobile office. Harrelson said it also has a handicap access lift that is hidden beneath the floor and is 11 feet wide — the old trailer’s lift took up a fair amount of room and was narrower at only eight feet.
The Smilemobile services three counties, spending most of its time traveling to Craven County schools, but also visiting Jones and Pamlico counties. The children who are treated are those on Medicaid or Health Sense, as well as children with no insurance.
Swicegood said the service is vital to the area.
“Children miss school because of dental needs not being addressed,” she said. “But the thing about dental disease is, we can actually prevent it.”
She said that along with treatment, she and her staff also educate children and their parents about dental care.
“The advantage of mobile care is that we come to the children,” she said. “That helps with barriers to their care, such as parents without transportation.”
Time is another issue that it affects: “Instead of missing a half day or whole day, this takes 45 minutes,” she said.
“We were so excited with the new mobile unit,” she said. “We got to pick colors and the graphics to use outside … and now we can offer state of the art dental care.”
Harrelson reiterated the service runs without the use of state or local funds, making its income from insurance claims. He added that the money that comes in with servicing children in rural Jones and Pamlico counties is vital to keeping the mobile unit running.
“We need them as much as they need us,” he said. “It’s kind of a win-win all around.”
“We generate $500,000 every five to six years,” he said. “We could replace this every six years, but we’re hoping this will last another 20.”