MOCH mobile dental bus program got its early start in Ozark County

The bus currently serves all of Ozark County’s schools, Bakersfield, Dora, Gainesville, Lutie and Thornfield - along with more than a dozen others in a four county area.

Dr. Sybil Fortner provides dental services free of charge to families of school-aged children through the Missouri Ozarks Community Health dental bus.

MOCH dentist Lauren Bales is pictured here working inside the MOCH dental bus. Many of the MOCH dental staff take turns helping out on the bus as needed.

This photo is taken inside the MOCH dental bus where children receive exams and other comprehensive dental care.

The big, bright sea life-painted facade of the Missouri Ozarks Community Health dental bus is a head-turner, but it’s the work that occurs inside the dental bus that’s the real star of the show. 

The dental bus serves more than 18 schools in its four county service area and provides services for nearly 1,000 kids each year. But the original program, aimed at providing dental services to school children, had more humble beginnings, right here in Ozark County.

“Several years ago we participated in a grant with one of the school nurses in Ozark County, Kristi Williams. She wrote a grant that allowed us to provide dental exams, cleaning and sealants in our clinics to elementary children in our service area,” MOCH Dental Director Dr. Sybil Fortner told the Times. 

In its initial phases, Ozark County children rode school buses to the MOCH clinics where they were seen and received dental care. They eventually expanded service to Douglas County, and then to Wright County. 

When that grant was finished, MOCH purchased mobile dental equipment that allowed providers to travel to the schools to provide services inside the buildings. 

“There were portable chairs and dental units that we would transport in a trailer... we would wheel everything in and out of each school,” Fortner said. “The portable equipment allowed us to provide a lot of care, but it was not ergonomic and just more difficult to deal with at times.”

The providers were able to visit a few schools to provide services that way, but they were limited in reach due to equipment and scheduling. 

Then, in 2018, MOCH applied for a grant program offered by the Missouri Foundation for Health’s opportunity fund with a dream of purchasing a dental truck or bus that could take their program with the schools to the next level, providing care without the extra work and time it took to set up the mobile dentistry clinics inside the schools.

“We were awarded the grant and were able to add some of our own funds to help purchase the dental bus. It has allowed us to increase the number of schools and amount of children we are able to see,” Forntner said. 

The bus now visits nearly two dozen schools in Ozark, Douglas, Wright and Texas Counties with clients from pre-k to high school. In addition to regular public school districts, the bus also visits some HeadStart programs and other facilities. 

During the 2023-24 school year, 991 children were treated on the dental bus, receiving services that include exams, cleaning, x-rays, sealants, fluoride, fillings, crowns and extractions. In Ozark County, all five schools (Bakersfield, Dora, Gainesville, Lutie and Thornfield) participate in the dental bus program. 

Fortner serves as the dentist on the bus and works with two dental assistants, Karsyn Allen and Rebecca Nelson, on a regular basis, although all of the dental assistants within the MOCH clinics help at times on the bus as needed. “It’s a team effort,” Fortner said. Sheena Holt serves as the dental bus coordinator, scheduling site visits, delivering forms, completing follow up calls and pitching in other ways as needed.

The services provided do not cost the students’ parents a dime, MOCH officials say. 

“If we have the insurance information available for the child, we will bill the insurance on file. With that said, there is never a bill sent to the parents of children seen on the bus, as it is our mission to see all children, regardless of their ability to pay,” said Randall Gann, CFO. “To help offset the costs associated with this charity care, we established the Missouri Ozarks Children’s Health Fund, an investment portfolio that focuses on providing care to the children of our service area at no cost to the children or parents.”

Fortner says the children all seem to love the unique experience of having their dental appointment inside the bus. It’s decked out with a TV mounted to the ceiling, so kids can watch movies while they are having their dental visit. 

The patients often chat while in the chair. Many ask if the dentist lives inside the bus, but she’s quick to tell them that while it’s the perfect spot for her work, it isn’t quite as comfortable as a home. They also seem impressed to learn that Fortner is the one who drives the bus to the schools. Then when the exam is done, they say goodbye until next time and flash their pearly whites. It’s those big smiles the staff love seeing, knowing the dental bus continues to make a difference in the lives of the children who flash them.

To find out more about the MOCH dental bus, contact Dental Bus Coordinator Sheena Holt by calling MOCH at 417-683-5739.

Ozark County Times

504 Third Steet
PO Box 188
Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
Fax: (417) 679-3423