A bright yellow awning reached out from the mobile Health Express dental bus, shielding families from the heat of the sun as they waited for scheduled dental appointments.
Inside, stretched out on an exam chair, a young boy with a tear-stained face looked up at Angelica Ruiz as she handed him a small mirror.
"See how shiny and clean your teeth look? That's how they will look every day if you brush regularly," said Ruiz, a dental assistant working in the mobile dental bus parked Tuesday at Pine Village, a housing authority development.
Over the years, there have been other programs for low-income families to provide dental care. Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine's dental school provided some services, but for many families there were problems with transportation, and others needed a broader range of services, such as tooth extractions.
Almost two years ago, Manatee County Rural Health, the Housing Authority, Whole Child Manatee and some local school nurses came together. "We needed to provide a solution in a tangible format," said Elizabeth Sibell-Field, a Section-8 case worker with the Manatee County Housing Authority.
They decided upon a health bus as the best solution and Manatee Rural Health, which has a 501 (c3), wrote the grant proposal.
Now, almost two years later, families are getting much-needed dental services for their children. What started as a plea from
school nurses has come to fruition. "They planted a seed to fulfill a need," said Sibell-Field.
Dentist Maria Pardo expected to see 18 patients scheduled Tuesday on one of the bus' first forays into the community.
"All are first-timers but two. New patients take a bit more time because we need to assess them," said Pardo.
The bus usually serves patients in one of Rural Health's 27 county locations, but plans on reaching more in the area. An exam, instruction on oral hygiene and a preventative fluoride treatment costs the patient about $20, but would easily cost more than $150 at another dentist's office, said Pardo, who estimates approximately 650 patients have been treated to date.
For now, the care is only for the children. "One step at a time," said Sibell-Field, who hopes to provide more services in the future.