The Dental Foundation of Oregon Tooth Taxi

By: Mary Daly

The Tooth Taxi is a 38’ state-of-the-art dental office on wheels with two dental chairs, a full-time dentist, two dental assistants and a program manager. It visits schools and community sites throughout Oregon to provide free dental care and oral health education to uninsured and underserved children.

The van spends up to a week at a school/site providing dental screenings, cleanings, sealants, X-rays, fillings, minor oral surgery and in-classroom oral health education. Each child receives oral hygiene instruction, a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, mirror, and a brushing timer.

Site partners and schools are selected based on high percentage of students qualifying for the free & reduced lunch program, limited or no access to dental care and a dedicated project coordinator from the site to prepare for the Tooth Taxi visit.

The Tooth Taxi was created through a partnership with OEA Choice Trust, ODS, and The Dental Foundation of Oregon, the charitable arm of the Oregon Dental Association. The van is funded by leading foundations, corporations and individuals who care deeply about improving the oral health of Oregon’s children.

The Tooth Taxi team is charged with implementing the Dental Foundation of Oregon’s mission, “Improving oral health for Oregon’s children.”

In our fourth year of service we continue to modify and evolve the program to enhance services rendered.  We have instituted repeat site visits that account for 40 percent of our visits, decreasing the introduction time necessary with the site partner and allowing us to complete treatment on many students.  Our program can be a bit intensive for some schools, especially in light of diminished budgets and staff. Return visits allow us to make more of an impact both with education and with treatment rather than just reaching the tip of the iceberg.

At the end of each site visit a list of students identified as uninsured and still needing dental treatment is given to the site partner to refer students to The Children’s Program.  This not only provides a follow up resource but is a reminder to school staff that they have a referral option for students with dental needs throughout the year.

In 2011 we ran our most successful summer program partnering with school migrant programs and community non-profit centers.  Establishing relationships with dedicated site partners ensured a steady stream of patients and kept the Tooth Taxi on the road.

Tooth decay is preventable and that is a message we try to get across to students through our in classroom oral hygiene program.  Teachers are invited to sign up for a presentation from one of our staff members while we are on site.  With a focus on offering the education each week we have increased the number of students that receive the oral hygiene news.  This also prompts discussion in the classrooms and reaches the teachers who often share their own dental care stories.  Each student receives a bookmark that reinforces the oral hygiene message and each school receives a Tooth Taxi library bookpack, four books that provide invaluable oral health education information for teachers, parents and children.  How do we know the presentations have made a difference?  Checking out of the hotel Friday morning the desk clerk told us her kindergarten daughter came home from school all excited about the Tooth Taxi staff visit to her classroom.  She’s excited to take care of her own teeth and told her Mom “if you don’t brush them you get holes in them.”  She really liked the BIG toothbrush and the fake teeth.

Our ongoing goal is to keep the Tooth Taxi staffed (first things first).  It is a challenge to recruit and retain staff when the van is on the road three weeks a month, away from home Monday through Friday.  We modified our schedule so that we are within 60 miles of Portland during the summer and we spend every 3rd week within 60 miles of Portland (so staff can sleep in their own bed at night).  These changes allow staff to have a bit of a home life, take care of personal business, and stay in the position longer.

We give kids a positive experience and teach them to be good patients.  Acknowledgment from schools and parents reinforce that we are doing the right thing.

Dental professional volunteers are a key component of our program.  Volunteers are asked to give ½ or full day of services.  If we have two dentists in the van we set up our portable unit in the school for hygiene services by a volunteer hygienist. Volunteer hygienists provided cleanings and sealants to students that don’t need restorative care from the dentist.

Since the Tooth Taxi launched in late fall 2008 we have visited 157 schools/sites all over the State of Oregon, and served over 10,000 children while delivering $2,734,557 in donated dental services.  The Tooth Taxi services provide immediate relief of dental pain and infection for thousands of children who lack access to basic dental care, in addition to preventive services and education.


Mary A. Daly is the Program Manager for the Dental Foundation of Oregon’s mobile dental van affectionately known as the Tooth Taxi.   Mary has spent the past year criss-crossing the state of Oregon with the new mobile dental van, as close as she can get to her childhood dream of running a book mobile.    Mary may be contacted at 503.329.8877 or


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