Photos by Brittany Anderson.
By Brittany Anderson
Many rural communities do not have reliable access to dental care — but a Buda pediatric dentist is working to combat this in Caldwell County with a Central Texas-based non-profit healthcare organization
Dr. Alexandra Otto, D.D.S., and her husband Tim own and operate Kids Tooth Team, whose goal is to “elevate the quality and expand the availability of children’s oral healthcare in Texas.”
Otto said that she and Tim had a dream of being able to help kids in communities have “incredible dental care in clean, safe facilities” — and after identifying there was such a need for this in the area, they were put in touch with Dr. Shailee Gupta, D.D.S., of St. David’s Foundation.
St. David’s Foundation is the largest charity-based mobile dental program in the country. They operate a fleet of nine mobile dental vans that offer free dental care to over 10,000 students at high-needs elementary schools in three Central Texas counties and six school districts and charter school systems.
After nearly two years of work, Kids Tooth Team’s mobile clinic made its first appearance on Dec. 8 in front of their office where Dr. Otto, her team members and staff from St. David’s Foundation were present to celebrate the “transfer of the keys” and tour the van.
St. David’s Foundation’s donation of the van includes two dental operatories with full dental chair systems, a panoramic x-ray machine and dental office equipment totaling more than $1 million.
“To be able to partner with such an incredible organization to expand the access to care for those who need us the most is so inspiring and incredible,” Dr. Otto said.
In spring 2022, the mobile clinic will begin operating out of Caldwell County, whose patient-to-dentist ratio is 1,680:1, double that of the state average. Dr. Otto said that they are currently in the process of selecting what school in the county the clinic will “pilot” at. From there, they will choose a classroom or grade to work with, and families will be able to opt-in to participate.
Dr. Otto said that providing this service to schools will help “break down some of those barriers” for students who are unfamiliar with dentists and dental care.
“We want it to be a school-based dental home for these children, so kids who don’t have access to a dentist — this would be their dental office,” Otto said, adding that most things she can do in the regular office is able to be done in the van, including cleanings, sealants, fillings and small operative procedures.
Texas Pre-Dental Society has over 200 pre-dental students that will be able to help with the volunteer and labor hours in the van. Tim Otto said that while they eventually want to run the van full time, that requires funding, so operating the van will be contingent upon donations for now.
“We’re all fortunate to be in the position we’re in; to do this for our community,” Otto said. “What an incredible opportunity for all of us. It’s going to affect so many lives outside of the direct scope of what we’re doing here.”
At the heart of Kids Tooth Team and St. David’s Foundation is the desire to help kids stay healthy, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Dr. Edward Burger, Chief Executive Officer of St. David’s Foundation, said that lack of nutrition, vision care and dental care are three of the largest causes that impede the education of young people.
“Making sure that we have health equity is a fundamental tenet of how we look at everything,” Burger said. “That means that individuals, whether they have insurance or not, have the capacity to receive healthcare that they need, especially young people. To have this facility be available and accessible is going to be really meaningful.”