Background: Dental disease is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism for children. This article describes the creation and evolution of the St. David's Dental Program, a mobile school-based dental program for children.
Methods: The dental program is a collaboration of community partners in Central Texas that provides free dental care to low-income children in schools without relying on reimbursements or government funding.
Results: Since 1998, the program has provided 132,791 screenings for oral health treatment needs and 38,634 encounters for sealants or treatment. In 2005, the program provided $2.1 million worth of services at a cost of $1.2 million (not including donated services). Factors important to the program's success included sustained funding for general operating costs; well-compensated clinicians to deliver care and experienced human service workers to manage program operations; the devotion of resources to maximize consent form return rates; and the development of strong relationships with school district and individual school staff.
Conclusions: By removing cost, time, transportation, and bureaucratic barriers, the program was able to reach more children than fixed-site clinics. The program was a merging of private and public health dentistries. This model can be useful to other communities in light of the unmet need for dental care and tighter federal, state, and local government budgets.