University of Southern California's (USC) Mobile Clinic program began in 1965 when John Ronnau, a member of the school's oral surgery faculty, his family and a few dental students visited a remote site in Mexico to provide emergency dental care and information on prevention of dental disease. In 1968, when students identified an underserved population closer to home, the program's focus shifted to serving the dental needs of migrant workers in Central and Southern California.
Although early clinics were limited, they offered tremendous improvement over the previous efforts in Mexico. Services expanded to include dental prophylaxes and some operative dentistry. Creative students solved problems raised by these remote sites. They devised the octopus, a method for running a few air-turbine handpieces with a paint compressor, which allowed eight students to work at once. They mounted an old x-ray unit on the back of a truck to improve their diagnoses. A Cal State Long Beach industrial design student, inspired by his dental student friend, designed a portable, corrugated cardboard dental chair. These easily assembled chairs weighed less that 10 pounds and supported up to 250 pounds.
The success of the program attracted support. In late 1969, Walter Kiefer, president of the Condor Coach Company and USC alumnus, donated a Condor Coach. The Doris Duke Foundation provided a grant used to equip the coach. Charles Goldstein became faculty advisor of the student-run Mobile Clinic in 1970. Along with the student staff, Goldstein decided to limit treatment to children because the logistics of determining need was more manageable than identifying need for the entire population of an area.
In 1971, the Santa Barbara-Ventura Dental Society sought the services of the Mobile Clinic to meet the dental needs of children in Ventura County. This resulted in the expansion of the program from 20 to 30 weekend clinics a year. To help meet the increasing demand, students from UCLA dental school joined USC's Mobile Clinic program and have participated in weekend clinics ever since.
In 1974, Johnny Hart - the creator of BC and the Wizard of Id - granted permission to use this specially designed version of Thor as the logo for the USC Mobile Clinic. In 1975, the Mobile Clinic expanded its weekend efforts to include mid-week clinics. The service area expanded in 1976 from chiefly agricultural areas to include local schools.
In its 45-year history, the USC Mobile Clinic has joined in partnership with local communities, government agencies, private foundations, service clubs, and corporations to provide the funding and support needed to deliver dental care services to over 85,000 children from low-income families in California and Mexico. The USC Mobile Clinic program is an important resource in addressing the oral health needs of children from urban and rural low-income families in California, as well as a valuable educational resource for dental and dental hygiene students from USC and UCLA and dental hygiene and dental assistant students from all programs in Southern California.
View a video of the program that discusses the variety of clinical services, funding and sites.