The Mobile Dental Clinic
The RIDT-funded Mobile Dental Unit is now on the road. But what does it do? And why is it important to the nation’s health? We spoke to Prof Nikolai Attard and Dr Gabriella Gatt to get the whole story.
Two years ago, Prof Nikolai Attard, the Dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery, came up with the idea to have a mobile dental unit roaming the streets of Malta. The vehicle wouldn’t only do educational activities, but also compile a database of the country’s oral health.
Countless meetings and hundreds of hours of mental and manual labour later – along with some very generous donations – have now turned this dream into reality. But getting here has been no mean feat… and it’s only the beginning!
“The project has had many different phases,” explains Prof Attard, “and it has only been possible thanks to a number of people and sponsors who have aided us throughout the journey with whatever we have needed.”
One of these people has been Dr Gabriella Gatt, the project coordinator of the Mobile Dental Unit and an assistant lecturer at the University of Malta. She has been involved in the project from the very beginning, and her hands-on role has seen this come to fruition.
“We started off with researching mobile dental units and figuring out what we needed,” says Dr Gabriella. “It may seem obvious, but finding a big enough truck and the equipment, and everything else that goes into creating a fully-functional, mobile dental unit, was one of the hardest parts.”
Thankfully, many sponsors, sourced through RIDT, were willing to help out with this project. These are GSK Ltd, Cherubino Ltd, Good Causes Fund, Express Group, Rahuma International, Bart Enterprises Ltd, ProHealth Ltd and Suratek Ltd.
“Nothing’s been taken out internally in terms of resources,” adds Prof Attard. “This has been a self-sustained project supported entirely by the community which, so far, it is doing what it was designed to do: be an asset to the Dental Faculty.”
The mobile unit is now on the streets, and it’s ready to start its work by not only giving on-the-spot check ups to various people and communities, but also to compile an anonymous database of the status of the nation’s oral health. The latter will give current and future health care providers an invaluable source of information about the Maltese and Gozitan population.
“Whoever gets access to the Mobile Unit is going to be screened, and will receive a check up,” explains Dr Gatt. “The person will also be told if they need to visit a dentist or change their eating and/or drinking habits and their oral hygiene practices. Ultimately, each person will be receiving tailored advice.”
“Moreover, in extreme emergencies, the Dental Unit will also do procedures on patients,” adds Prof Attard. “But the point of the Unit isn’t to do this per se, but rather to bring oral health – which can affect our overall health – to the forefront.”
The Mobile Dental Unit is going to be an invaluable asset to all those currently working in the field of dentistry. For example, Dr Gatt, who is currently working on a PhD researching tooth erosion in the younger generations, will be able to use data collected through this clinic on wheels to study the current local situation.
More importantly, however, the Mobile Unit will also be able to go to communities that may not always be able to go to the dentist themselves, including the elderly and the disabled.
“While organising a recent event, the Special Olympics – Special Smiles screening event, which took place in Naxxar, we were faced with the situation where not everyone invited could attend due to transport issues. With this truck-cum-clinic, we will now be able to go to them directly, and make oral health more accessible than ever before,” says Dr Gatt.
It’s also important to remember that bad oral health can affect the overall health of the body – the mouth, after all, is part of our body. “Infections, gum disease and other types of mouth-related illnesses can have an influence on the body, and, by identifying them earlier on, people will be able to enjoy better health overall,” explains Prof Attard.
Now that it’s on the road, the Mobile Dental Unit will be visiting schools, homes for the elderly, factories, parishes and other communities in the upcoming months and years, bringing good oral health to the country.
‘This will be a great exercise for everyone involved,” says Dr Gatt. “Patients get a free oral health check, while those on board will be able to teach the next generation of dental specialists through real-life work.”
In fact, the crew on the Mobile Dental Unit will, at times, include dental students, all from the different courses that the Faculty itself is offering. This will include hygienists (people who specialise in providing education about oral health), dental technologists (people who develop prostheses and other appliances), and dental assistants (people who help the other professionals conduct their clinical activities).
“Putting it all together has been quite the ride… excuse the pun! But, thankfully, we have found the support we needed, and now look forward to commencing the second and more important part of the project,” Prof Attard concludes.
The completion of phase one means that the Mobile Dental Unit is now on the roads, and it is a drive to your Healthy Smile… So keep your eyes peeled for this truck as it sets out to do its job!
Help us fund more projects like this as well as research in all the faculties by donating to RIDT. Click here for more information on how to donate.
The University of Malta’s RIDT-funded mobile dental clinic will be hitting the roads in just a few weeks time. To celebrate this milestone, we spoke to Albert Bonnici, the engineer who has turned a regular truck into a state-of-the-art dental centre.
Can you imagine life without teeth? How would we chew our food? What would we look like when we smiled?
Yes, teeth are incredibly important, but many of us take them for granted and, unless we have a toothache, we often neglect to visit the dentist. How widespread is this attitude? How much do we care about our oral health?
To address this, Malta’s first-ever mobile dental clinic will – soon – start its journey through the streets of Malta, visiting not only those who are unable to leave their homes, but also schools and community centres. Its on-board specialists will give advice, perform check-ups and emergency procedures on the spot, while gathering crucial data and disseminating related information.
But who built this fantastic vehicle, and what did it involve?
This is the story of engineer Albert Bonnici, in his own words:
“I was approached about this project after Professor Nikolai Attard, the Dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery, explained his brilliant idea of getting the Maltese community together (with the help some of sponsors) to promote dental health,” says Albert. “This inspired me, and I started thinking about the ways I could help bring the project to fruition.
“The first step was to get the best base unit available,” he explains. “I ended up with a very suitable DAF 45 LF cargo truck that had a 6m x 2.4m working space and a hydraulic tail lift.
“Obviously, the medical functions were my number one priority, but mobility, ergonomics, eco friendliness and, last but not least, radiation, and health and safety standards also had to be given their due importance from the initial stages.
“Designing the basic interior layout was left to the Faculty of Dentistry, while I did the rest, which included sizing, selecting and fitting the equipment and services, both on the inside and the outside the truck,” he continues.
“These included electrical power circuits and pipework for compressed air, vacuuming, hot and cold water, and drains,” he explains. “A hydraulic vehicle stabiliser unit also had to be installed under the chassis, while water tanks, pumps and an air conditioner were fitted to the sides.
“Then came the interior design stage,” he tells us excitedly. “Thermal insulation, cabin structure, panelling, flooring and furniture are just a few of the tasks that had to be completed before the medical equipment could be installed.
“The actual work started late in the summer of 2014, though planning had to be done quite some time before that date,” he continues. “At the moment, the project is at an advanced stage with the important finishing touches to complete, including related exterior artwork to suit.
“It wasn’t all a breeze, however” Albert says. “Financing was quite an issue at first, though, thanks to a number of sponsors, we reached our goals.
“Even so, the biggest issue was allocating time on my part… Working single-handedly for most of it meant I spent about one day per week on this project, and this resulted in certain tasks taking longer than expected.
“I have to admit, however, that although each minor job came with some sort of satisfaction, the cherry on the cake was the interior décor! It’s not my forte, granted, but switching on the LED soffit lights once most of the interiors were finished revealed a five-star clinic that, in my humble opinion, looks great!” Albert concludes.
Help us fund more projects like this as well as research in all the faculties including medicine, archeology, technology and many other spheres, by donating to RIDT. Click here for more information on how to donate.