Using a mobile dental unit, including portable x-ray and tools, the traveling dental teams bring care to the doorsteps of patients, who are often elderly and live too far from the nearest open clinic. In Iwate prefecture alone, 60 clinics were damaged or destroyed in the disaster.
Each week, Dr. Ito, a dentist, and his two hygienists use the mobile dental unit to check on patients living in the Taro Group Home, a newly rebuilt center for survivors in Miyako, a town in the northern area of Iwate’s disaster-affected coastline.
In addition to its 20 plus residents, Dr. Ito regularly cleans the teeth and gums of an 80-year-old woman suffering from dementia. The woman came from the Taro area of Miyako, a fishing hamlet that no longer exists due to the wave that flattened it.
“There is no way the residents can make the trip to my clinic,” said Dr. Ito. “It is too far and they’re in a vulnerable state already.” He explained that the mobile unit enables him to do “everything he needs to do” to care for residents of the group home.
The mobile units are just part of the more than $650,000 in AmeriCares funding for dental care—including temporary clinics and equipment to help treat patients in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures.
In 2011 and 2012, AmeriCares funded the construction of three temporary dental clinics—replacing local dentals services destroyed by the disaster—that will serve a population of more than 10,000 people and operate for up to ten years.