Oral healthcare inequity is a very real problem in the US. Study after study has shown wide disparities between the healthcare of various socioeconomic groups, with marginalized communities often bearing the brunt of inadequate access to dental services. These disparities not only affect the oral health of individuals but also contribute to broader health issues, with poor oral care shown to contribute to a range of serious conditions, from diabetes to heart disease and dementia. Proper preventative care is critical, but not always accessible. Mobile dentistry is emerging as a solution, by bringing clinics to the patients, rather than the other way around.

Mobile dentistry brings clinics to the patients
Mobile dentistry brings clinics to the patients.

Mobile Dentistry: Building Health Equity

It's estimated that about 70 million Americans live in areas without enough dental providers. Most severely affected are those in rural or urban marginalized communities. For those rural communities, transportation is typically a problem, as proper care may be hours away and require time off work. The same can be said for urban disenfranchised communities. There may be no clinics within them, requiring these individuals to travel to another — often after waiting a long time for an appointment.

Mobile dentistry is a solution to this problem. Unlike the conventional model where patients visit a dental office, mobile dentistry brings dental services directly to various non-traditional settings. This innovative method seeks to make dental care more accessible to a broader population, especially those facing challenges such as limited transportation, busy schedules, or physical constraints. In fact, mobile dentistry has been highly effective in four areas where access limits treatment the most.

Geriatric dental care access

Elderly patients have particular challenges with mobility that may prevent them from seeking appropriate care and instead rely on emergency services. In fact, 1.5 million ER visits per year are related to dental pain, with 50,881 coming from those over 60. Mobile clinics can be used to serve senior communities with proper preventive care and reduce these ER visits.

Pediatric dental care access

Good oral care sets children up for success; children with poor oral health care are three times more likely to miss school because of dental pain. The situation is complicated by the fact that these children rely on a parent or guardian to manage their appointments and oversee their care. Mobile dentistry offers a practical solution by bringing dental services directly to the children, whether they are at school or participating in community programs. This ensures that they receive the necessary care, even in situations where parents may be unavailable to coordinate appointments.

Urban community care access

It’s expensive to operate a dental clinic; it's especially expensive to do so in a city where you must contend with higher rents and greater competition. Even finding an area that's zoned for healthcare can be a challenge. Mobile clinics can travel to these communities and serve them while avoiding the high overhead costs that come with operating a fixed facility in the area.

Rural community access

Meanwhile, those in rural communities may not have access to a dentist for hundreds of miles. The nearest general practitioner may be hours away, while specialty care could require expensive travel and hotel accommodations. General and specialty mobile clinics can visit these areas on a regular schedule, providing necessary care to multiple communities a month.

Mobile dentistry helps to address four of the largest segments where there is an oral healthcare lapse. By making care portable, you're able to reach more people in underserved communities. But it doesn't just provide access to patients; It can also be a great way for new practitioners to make a difference.

Making Your Dental  Practice Mobile – or Just More Accessible

Mobile dental clinics don't just provide access for patients in underserved areas. They're also a lower barrier to entry for new dentists setting up their practice for the first time. While it can cost over $600,000 to set up a basic six-chair clinic, a mobile clinic typically costs anywhere from $400,000 to $500,000 to establish. However, even that cost can be reduced through outside funding.

Unlike fixed dental practices, mobile practitioners are often eligible for grants or special financial support to get their clinics up and running. Below are a few opportunities for grants that new dentists may want to consider.


AAPD Foundation

CareQuest Innovation

Mobile Healthcare Association

Arcora Foundation

DTA Foundation

This foundation specializes in child oral health care, with grants available for those who practice in a 501(c)(3) setting.

This is a start-up funding program designed to drive accessible, integrated, and equitable healthcare for all

Grants of up to $10,000 may be available to members specifically focusing on improving mobile clinic safety

The Arcora Foundation provides sponsorship funding for community-led efforts to promote health equity.

The Dental Trade Alliance Foundation provides yearly grants for innovative projects that increase access to oral healthcare.


These are just a few of the grant opportunities available for mobile healthcare initiatives. You will likely have community-focused efforts in your area where you may be able to gain funding for a clinic.

Of course, if you're already running a traditional practice, it may be too much of a lift to build your mobile program right now. In that case, there are a few things that you can do to make care and dental education more accessible.

  • Collaborate with existing mobile dentistry programs: If you can't establish your own program, consider partnerships with existing mobile healthcare programs in your community. By joining forces, you can extend the reach of dental services without starting from scratch.

  • Engage in community outreach and education: Engage in proactive community outreach to raise awareness about dental health. Dentists can conduct educational workshops, seminars, or awareness campaigns in collaboration with local schools, community centers, and businesses to help drive awareness of oral health care.

  • Establish mobile dental education units: While a full-scale mobile clinic may be challenging, consider creating mobile dental education units. These units can travel to different locations, providing educational resources, preventive care, and basic screenings.

  • Add informational videos for chairside use or email distribution: Informational videos can be used chairside or sent via email to help patients better understand procedures or treatment plans. These videos can cover topics such as proper oral hygiene techniques, preventive care measures, and the importance of regular dental check-ups.
Mobile dentistry contributes to improving oral health accessibility
Mobile dentistry contributes to improving oral health accessibility.

Mobile dentistry is a great solution to socio-economic, geographic, and community disparities in good oral health, but it's not the only one. Every effort, no matter how small, contributes to improving oral health accessibility in your community. By taking small steps, you can make a meaningful impact on dental care and education, even if a full-scale mobile dentistry program is not currently feasible.