Breaking plaque: ASU engineers to build mobile dental clinic

ASU engineers design mobile dental clinic for developing world

Nicaraguan clinics, which fall far below U.S. standards, have wait times of more than five hours. To combat this, five ASU engineering majors are working to make the trip to the doctor easier for patients in developing.

Students that are part of the Engineering Projects in Community Service, or EPICS, at the Fulton School of Engineering, have designed a mobile dental clinic to be used in Nicaragua and other developing Central and South American countries during international missions. 

Sara Mantlik, mechanical engineering senior and project manager for the Engineering Smiles EPICS team, traveled to El Salvador last August on a mission trip and witnessed the conditions local dentists worked in.

“When we were there, there were four dentists that volunteered but only two working dental chairs so we had to hunt around the hospital for additional chairs,” Mantlik said. “We actually ended up going in the junkyard and finding an old massage table that someone threw away. It was really rickety and beat up so we had to put paper under the legs to level it out and then we just cleaned it out and put some sheets on it.”

The mobile clinic being designed by Mantlik and her team would be housed in a 50-foot goose-neck trailer and have four separate dental stations. This would allow dentists to receive hundreds of additional patients and give them proper supplies, making junkyard massage tables obsolete.

“The other makeshift station that we made used an old examination chair and the hygienist had to actually climb over the patient to get to the equipment because the room was so cramped,” Mantlik said. “The mobile dental trailer will not only increase the amount of patients they can see but also improve the working conditions and the overall experience for the patients.”

But this wasn’t something these students decided to do overnight. Engineering senior Nick Kemme said this project is a culmination of several years of hard work and decision making. 

“I wanted a bigger project and to make a big difference in the world instead of doing something small,” Kemme, who is in charge of logistics and quality control for the group, said. “One of the big things with starting the project that we had a problem with was just that we had so many different sources of input from different mentors and professors.”

For most of the first year the group found it difficult to stick with one idea and move forward. Engineering senior Jackie Janssen said most of the time was spent trying to decide what to do and analyzing the best options.

“It’s really taken a lot of time from all of us and commitment too,” Janssen, who is in charge of fundraising for the group, said. “We’ve met every week for 3 weeks at least for an hour a week."

Kemme said that once the group found its direction, Engineering Smiles was finally able to get the ball rolling and get the design drawn up fairly quickly which allowed them to move on to the final stage of the project: funding.

ASU has been helpful in putting the team in contact with mentorships and helping them understand the business side to this project. Kemme said that sometimes they can be a little too technical during presentations and miss some of the main message points.

“We know how it all works and what we need but not necessarily how to always portray it in the best words,” Kemme explained.

These presentations are an important component in receiving the funding to proceed with the project, and with everything else seemingly taken care of, the team just has to focus on marketing right now.

 “Right now we just need the money,” said Janssen. “We have the designs and everything else. Right now we just need the money to convert this from an idea into the product. We just need to show donors that this is a serious product that needs to get produced.”

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