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Engineering Smiles Working to ‘Mobilize’ Smiles

Jun 09, 2015

By Dean George

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Four engineering students, an architectural student and a mentor working towards a PhD in construction management walk into a bar and…bring dental care to Nicaragua?

With a focus on providing needed oral health care to Nicaraguans, the group named Engineering Smiles may not be your typical collection of engineering students. They are, however, committed and passionate about doing something unique: designing and building a mobile dental clinic that will also serve as a training center, first in Arizona, and later in Nicaragua.


As previously reported in Dental Wire, mobile dental clinics staffed by hard working dental professionals often crisscross counties and states to provide free dental treatment to school children, low-income adults and military veterans.  Engineering Smiles, though, is planning on contributing to good oral health another way.

Engineering Smiles consists of four women and two men: Arizona State students Sara Mantlik, Nick Kemme, Jackie Janssen, Fionnuala McPeake, recent graduate Christine Bui and PhD candidate John Cribbs.

Together, they are working so the nonprofit IMAHelps (International Medical Alliance) can begin field use of the mobile clinic they are designing in May 2016. IMAHelps was founded in 2000 by a former dental assistant volunteer and her husband who today organizes medical humanitarian missions in Nicaragua, Peru and El Salvador.

As Engineering Smiles is learning, good intentions are great, but designing a mobile clinic for use by nonprofits is challenging. After deciding that using an RV was too expensive and a charter bus was too small, the team has been pressing full-steam ahead with plans to use a trailer.

Still, there are ongoing issues Engineering Smiles frequently confronts. “How do you fulfill ADA (American Dental Association) requirements within the constraints set by an elongated trailer?”said Bui. “Is the space inviting for children who may never have been exposed to the privilege of dental care?”

Space is a major concern when outfitting a trailer as a dental clinic. The challenge to fit all necessary items, such as a transitional space with moveable wooden partitions so dentists can alter the space size to fit three or four dental stations and a sanitation area, into a small space is a daunting challenge. There is also the need for natural light and solar panels to provide up to 50 percent of the clinic’s power, full water and air-conditioning systems, and an automated generator.

The current working design features a line of windows to allow natural light, ultra durable rubber flooring and tightly fitted countertops to prevent the growth of bacteria in loose seams.

That’s where their engineering talents, and even senior Sarah Mantlik’s childhood obsession with Legos and math models, is making a difference towards realizing their admirable goal.

The Engineering Smiles team’s goal is to raise the $200,000 it will take to build the mobile dental office by November so building it can start in January 2016. If all goes well, the clinic will hit the Arizona highways next May before heading south to Nicaragua.

If you are interested in contributing to the Engineering Smiles/IMAHelps project, Engineering Smiles is accepting donations through its website.

Sources: refinery29.com, imahelps.org, epics.engineering.asu.edu/engineeringsmiles
Photo source: Engineering Smiles


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