Students Design Mobile Dental Clinics for Developing Country

December 19, 2007 - News Release

People in the Dominican Republic will have healthier teeth thanks to University of Guelph engineering students who have designed two mobile dental clinics for the developing nation.

The unique project was an assignment in Prof. John Runicman's fourth-year biomechanical design class and the students submitted their designs last week.

He asked his class to come up with a design that will turn two donated cube vans into dentist's offices on wheels that can travel to remote underserviced communities where dental health services are non-existent.

"One of the reasons I got into this form of engineering was to help people," said Runciman. "And this project is perfect for this senior design course because it's an applied real-life problem."

Without public dental health care or education, about 95 per cent of the population in the Dominican Republic suffers from periodontal disease and about nine out of 10 people have cavities requiring fillings, said Alex Vistorino, executive director of the Smiles Foundation in the country's capital, Santo Domingo.

The Smiles Foundation runs three mobile clinics and hopes to add these two new clinics-on-wheels by next spring.

"People from these communities typically travel to see a dentist only for extremely severe infections or disease," said Vistorino. "Our main target population is children, but we also treat adults, and typically whole families come to the van for treatment all at the same time."

Already shipped south, the vans will be outfitted by local contractors and an on-site dental technician who will follow the designs supplied by the U of G students.

Students had to tackle components of the complicated project, including determining space allocation, designing a waste-disposal system, accommodating necessary dental equipment and tools, and findings ways of providing air conditioning, electricity, lighting, water and compressed air.

Throughout the project, they communicated with their Caribbean partners by conference call, e-mail and a classroom weblink.

This past week one of the students has volunteered his time to create a virtual reality model of the mobile dental clinics to help the contractors and dental technician understand the design.

"Looking at a two-dimensional drawing can be confusing," said Runciman. "The student has taken the design work and created a three-dimensional model so it appears the way it would if you were walking through the actual van. These students really worked hard on this project and wanted to get done right."

Prof. John Runciman
School of Engineering
519-824-4120, Ext. 53072

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982,

University of Guelph
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