by Erick R. Schmidt
Sarah Cimino (D.D.S. ’08) works on the Tooth Truck, the Ronald McDonald House of the Ozarks Care Mobile in Springfield, Mo. This dental unit is a computerized, self-contained dentist’s office on wheels. The truck travels the city and surrounding areas five days a week to reach kids who qualify for free and reduced lunches and don’t have dental insurance.
Q: What was it like making the move from private practice to the Tooth Truck?
I thought this might be a temporary job, but I’m loving it so much I could see myself staying for a while. It’s rewarding.
Q: What’s your patients’ background with dental care?
We see kids who’ve maybe had an experience with a dentist, but it’s been years and they have unmet needs. For us, being the first exposure a lot of these kids have to dental care is paramount. They don’t know about flossing. Some of them don’t have toothbrushes.
Q: How do you describe your role?
These kids come in and whether it’s their teeth that are bothering them or situations at home, they don’t feel special. When we bring them onto the truck, they’re our No. 1 priority and they look forward to coming back to see the results.
Q: Is education important?
Once you explain in their terms how a cavity works, it makes sense to them. Their parents weren’t educated when they were younger, or a lot of them have had bad experiences with a dentist. Without us, that’s being passed on to the kids.
Q: Does it require some convincing to get kids onto the truck?
Most kids are receptive to it. They want to show you that they brushed their teeth that day,
or they’re embarrassed that they didn’t. They’ll run onto the truck and ask if they can brush their teeth.
Q: How similar is the truck to a typical dentist’s office?
Every one of our patients gets a cleaning, X-rays and a treatment plan. We have an office manager, a program director, two full-time dental assistants and one part-time dental assistant.
Q: How does your current job compare to private practice?
I don’t have to worry about insurance or what kind of payment we’re going to get because we have private donors and funding. We’re never worried about what Medicaid is going to give us.
Q: What makes this job ideal?
I’m just the dentist. I get to come in every day and do dentistry. I get to deal with kids and put them at ease. That comes naturally to me.