Two Innovative Mobile Dentistry Solutions: Mobile (Dental Van) or Pop-Up (Portable) Operatory

| 10 min read

“If-you-build-it-they-will-come…” - makes good movie dialogue. But it’s an entirely different narrative as it relates to the discussion about mobile dentistry via a mobile dental van (driveable) or a pop-up (portable) dental operatory.

Practically speaking, mobile dentistry - in whatever form - is less about “building” something and more about providing onsite, accessible service delivery. It aligns with the current shift in thinking about how best to make dental care more accessible to an increasingly mobile and/or under-resourced, remote, and aging population.


The case for mobile dentistry: mobile (driveable) or pop-up (portable)

To clarify, mobile (driveable) dentistry would apply to an adequately equipped vehicle such as a van or other capable vehicle. Portable (pop-up) dentistry describes dental services provided via an equally equipped mobile dental operatory.

Each model would be fully equipped to provide a variety of dental services outside of a fixed dental office.

Although limited in providing a broad scope of service the driveable or portable model is effective in delivering quality of care. And many related models (of either) remain connected to the broader care and supervision of a fixed-location dental practice.

Teeth checkup at dentists office

What services are unique to mobile dentistry via the drivable (mobile dental van) or portable (pop-up) models?

Flexibility is built into each model. You can be mobile or portable and provide services as a private practice or as an extension of a private practice.

Mobile or portable dental care is a “safety net” for many who lack the resources, time, or inclination to seek dental treatment in a fixed facility.

Mobile dentistry (in either form) creates a number of community opportunities:

  • Community health centers
  • Dental school training
  • Hospitals
  • Non-profit organizations
  • Corporations
  • Schools
  • Senior living and assisted living centers
  • Homeless shelters

Services provided by driveable or portable dental models can vary. And the scope of care can be subject to state regulations - especially as the mobile dentistry model expands state to state.

Mobile and portable care can include:

  • Diagnostic assessment and education
  • Preventive dental care such as oral hygiene treatment, fluoride application, and dental sealants
  • Basic restorative services

Beyond those services, mobile dentistry providers can be required to collaborate with their own fixed facility, another dental practice, or a specialist.

Closeup of dental curing light on tray at clinic

How is a mobile (drivable) or pop-up (portable) mobile dentistry clinic equipped for patient care?

There are many crossover equipment similarities between a fixed dental practice and a dental clinic that’s mobile/driveable or portable. As you know, there’s standard equipment common with a traditional dental operatory.

  • Chairs
  • Dedicated lighting
  • Clean water sources
  • Procedural tools and supplies
  • Imaging technology
  • Sterilization equipment for infection control protocols

Equivalent planning is necessary for providing mobile and portable dental services. Duplicating dental treatment and procedures (as allowed by mobile dentistry) requires equipment that can serve your patient’s needs outside of a traditional dental practice.

For example your mobile dental van can be designed to mimic a fixed dental operatory. Chairs, lighting, water sources, tools and supplies, and sterilization methods are further supported by onboard equipment such as:

  • Imaging equipment
  • Panorex x-ray technology
  • Laptops and/or mobile devices (with wireless capability) that can provide digital access and secure storage of patient records via cloud-based software

The portable (pop-up) dental clinic can match the interior footprint of a mobile (van) model. The difference would be portability capable features such as:

  • Portable lighting fixtures
  • Portable (foldable) treatment chairs
  • Portable imaging equipment
  • Portable sterilization equipment
  • Transportable supply cabinets or storage bins for dental instruments, gloves, masks, etc
  • Mobile technology that provides vacuum/suction, x-rays, and intraoral images
  • Wireless capable laptops and/or mobile devices with cloud-based access as noted for a mobile equipped van, etc.


How to decide between mobile dentistry models - mobile (dental van) or portable (pop-up)

Weighing the pros and cons is worthwhile. Again, it’s essential to start by determining your particular state’s allowances for mobile dentistry in general. Follow that clarification by determining the scope of services you will offer relative to your community, available collaborative support, and your investment potential.

A comparison can be useful.

Mobile (self-contained) dental van/vehicle

Pros include:

  • The capability to provide dentistry to multiple populations in large geographic zones (where services are needed) and where a fixed facility isn’t available or convenient
  • Less geographic limitations
  • High visibility in served locations (e.g. name and practice recognition, moving “billboard,” etc)

Cons include:

  • Potentially higher start-up costs
  • Lack of recognized community presence/involvement and continuity of care (e.g. care after van leaves or until it returns)
  • Space limitations that impact productivity and production
  • Regulatory compliance issues (e.g. Disabilities Act, fire codes, etc)
  • Waste disposal issues
  • Capable and available driver

Portable (pop-up) dental service provider

Pros include:

  • Lower start-up costs
  • Ability to serve multiple communities and adapt to changes (if/when care is available via fixed provider)
  • Capability to go directly to an individual or group needing services
  • Expandability potential to a fixed or mobile (van) clinic
  • Portability that allows for plug-and-play equipment upgrades and options
  • Pack-and-go capability

Cons include:

  • Time consuming preparation packing, unpacking, and restocking supplies
  • Increased coordination for services provided
  • Environmental challenges (e.g. light, power, temperature, etc)
  • Efficiency reduction (e.g. vacuum and air capacity)
  • Use and noise of generator (where necessary)
  • Space/set-up issues
  • Waste disposal
  • Issues with patient/provider comfort and ergonomics
  • Ongoing equipment upkeep and maintenance
  • Limited x-ray processing, lab access, and supply storage
  • Increased staff workflow challenges (moving equipment, etc)

Overall, a mobile dentistry strategy is effective and timely. Delivering quality care to those who need it…when they need it…is the upside of either model (mobile/van or portable/pop-up).


Get informed about mobile dentistry…and the technology that supports it

If you’re considering the mobile or portable dentistry model you might find some additional useful insight in the following resource:

An Overview and Guide to Mobile Dentistry

And another word or two about the technology that supports mobile dentistry

Teledentix is an innovative, turn-key teledentistry solution created by Virtual Dental Care. The all-in-one platform will enable you to adapt teledentistry to your patient care and extend your services beyond the walls of your dental practice…including your mobile dentistry strategy.

  • Teledentix provides an easy-to-use video conferencing tool that’s secure, HIPAA compliant, and specific to dentistry.
  • Teledentix Basic is a perfect starting point. Begin with a free trial and then transition to a very low monthly fee. You and your patients can join unlimited video conferences including screen-share, file-share, video-share, and real-time chat communications.

Contact us about Teledentix and discover how it streamlines the interaction between you and your patient around their dental care in the fixed dental practice…and as a mobile dentistry provider.

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