Back-to-school dental cleanings may seem routine to many families, but they’re out of reach for a surprising number of Oregonians.
That’s where the Tooth Taxi comes in. Since it first hit the highway in 2008, this dental clinic on wheels has traveled to all corners of the state to deliver more than $6 million worth of free dental care to more than 37,500 children in need.
It’s not really a taxi, but rather a 38-foot RV. Inside is a state-of-the-art dental office with two chairs staffed by a full-time dentist and two assistants.
“We are a small charitable organization, but we make a huge impact,” said Jacki Gallo, executive director of the Dental Foundation of Oregon.
The Tooth Taxi was created through a partnership of Moda, OEA Choice Trust and the Dental Foundation of Oregon, the charitable arm of the Oregon Dental Association.
“Helping children when they are in pain, helping create beautiful smiles and confidence, allows us to set children up for success in learning and life,” Gallo said.
Giving kids reasons to smile
Tooth Taxi dentist Amanda Rice has a gentle touch with her young patients, many of whom are making their first visit to a dentist.
Often shy or fearful when they enter the RV, by the end of an appointment, kids find themselves laughing, singing or chatting with the staff about how exciting it was to see the dentist.
“Taking a step back to enjoy these moments with a child allows us to appreciate the large impact we can make when we focus on the small things,” Dr. Rice said.
In fact, the Tooth Taxi’s impact is sometimes most deeply felt with the smallest gifts. Tooth Taxi Program Manager Carrie Peterson remembers a visit to a southern Oregon high school when a teen whose house had burned down told her he only had one toothbrush to share between his separated parents’ houses.
“He would often forget his toothbrush when staying with the other parent, going days without brushing,” she said. “He was genuinely happy we could give him two new ones so that he could brush his teeth every day.”
Success stories like these inspire the Dental Foundation of Oregon — funded by individuals, foundations and companies like Moda that work to build healthier communities — to push for continued improvements in children's oral health.
“Moda has a long history with the Dental Foundation of Oregon. We’ve been a partner with them since the very beginning, helping with the Tooth Taxi and promoting the amazing work they do across the state,” said Moda Corporate Social Responsibility Manager Karis Stoudamire-Phillips.
Supporting the Tooth Taxi also helps Moda stay true to its roots as a pioneer in dental health for Oregonians, going back to its founding as Oregon Dental Service in 1955.
You can get involved, too. To set up a visit from the Tooth Taxi, ask your school district or school representatives to review the guidelines at smileonoregon.org, and then fill out a site request form.
To follow the Tooth Taxi on its adventures around the state, read its blog or like its page on Facebook.
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