For Veronkia Vazquez, DDS, ’00, biology, improving patients lives through better access to service by delivering care in non-traditional settings - inspired her to reinvent how and where patients get their much-needed dental care.
Routine dental care is getting easier, thanks to mobile dentistry
“Going to the dentist shouldn’t be a challenge,” said Dr. Vazquez. “If you’re back at work in your office or still working from home, it can be hard to find the right time to get into a regular dental cleaning. Clinics across northern Nevada are now seeing patients again and, sometimes, it can take a while before you’re back in the doctor’s chair.”
Other people may be working, or even living too far from a clinic, making even a sacrificed lunch break a challenge to squeeze in a dental appointment.
So, Vazquez put her dental business on wheels in order to take the clinic, to the patients.
The tooth fairy has wings. Dr. Vazquez has wheels.
Drop-In Dental is a mobile dentistry clinic that provides full-service dental care, from check-ups to full cleanings and x-rays. Her clinic literally moves to where it’s convenient for her patients.
“Our goal is to delivering on-site dental care that makes regular cleaning and check-ups less of a scheduling conflict and more of a personal priority,” said Vazquez. “We also try to eliminate the transportation barrier that many seniors and rural Nevadans experience by coming to them.”
In addition to a dental clinic on four wheels, Vazquez has 16 years of experience in the field of dentistry. Vazquez earned her Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine after earning her Bachelor of Science in biology at Nevada. She got her dentistry start in 2005 in Southern California as part of a National Health Service Corps commitment, a program with the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) that offers student loan repayment for time worked in underserved communities. After her 4-year commitment, she bought a dental practice in San Francisco, owning and operating it from 2013-2019.
“I started my mobile business in San Francisco,” said Vazquez. “We had contracts with AmazonWeb Services and Twitch. The non-traditional settings and convenience of having a provider at the workplace was rewarding for both myself and my patients.”
How on-site dental care is improving patient access for northern Nevada
Vazquez’ idea of turning dentistry into a mobile-setting has now come to life in northern Nevada. During covid, Vazquez decided to return to Reno, home of both her mother, and her undergrad alma mater. She reached out to the Nevada Small Business Development Center to find her way with getting her mobile business started up in the Silver State.
Established in 1985, the Nevada Small Business Development Center is hosted by the University of Nevada, Reno College of Business. The center delivers a wide variety of technical assistance to Nevada’s businesses and governmental entities through a 14-office statewide network. The economic and community development collaborative is one of a large national network of over 1,000 centers and is funded by the U.S. SBA and leveraged with funds from the University of Nevada, Reno.
“The SBDC team, including Sandra Rentas, ‘09 MA, Sam Males, ‘76 MBA, and Kathy Halbardier ‘93 MBA, have been tremendously supportive,” said Vazquez. “They provided outstanding, detailed guidance and enthusiasm for my business. I'm lucky to have them advocating for Drop-In Dental.”
Networking with the Nevada SBDC worked. Business connections helped Vazquez start connecting Nevada map dots.
“With my practice being mobile, I was approached about an opportunity to partner with the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine (UNR Med) Rural Outreach Clinics, to provide access to care for rural Nevadans, working alongside UNR Med medical students. It’s an extremely rewarding collaboration and I'm proud of the access to care we've provided to patients in Yerington and Silver Springs.”
Vazquez estimates that Drop-In Dental serves around 18 patients per day, during UNR Med Rural Outreach Clinics. She’s able to provide no-cost care to northern Nevadans who are uninsured, underinsured or without a social security number, thanks in part to grant funding for the ROCs.
“Thanks to the grant funding, I’m able to pay for my staff and equipment that we use at the ROCs,” said Vazquez. “Rural Nevadans have unique needs in terms of access to care, so it’s rewarding to be able to give our time and talent to make a difference. Aside from listing the extensive reasons that oral health is crucial - serving at the ROCs is a small way of making the world a better place, one smile at a time, in addition to being able to impact our future physicians by helping them learn. It’s a win, for all.”
In addition to the rural and underserved populations, the aging populations also have a special place in Dr. Vazquez’s heart, and in her business. Her target market since relocating Drop-In Dental to the Silver State, is its silver-haired residents.
“Caring for the elderly and offering specialty services to make life easier is not only a passion for Dr. Vazquez, but it’s a solid business direction,” said Sam Males, director, Nevada SBDC. “As a result of the state’s rapid growing retirement-age residents, there may be an increasing demand on the health care sector.”
“Seniors have mobility limitations and usually the senior centers they live in have shuttles that take them to and from appointments, but the shuttle timing is limited,” Vazquez said. “I've enjoyed providing dental services to seniors as they’re very grateful and a deserving population that has limited access to dental care.”
Drop-In Dental provides on-site senior dental services at Clearwater at Rancharrah, Five Star Premier Residences of Reno, and Brookdale senior living facilities in Reno.
The wheels on the bus go round and round, all through Nevada
Vazquez’ 42-foot-long Drop-In Dental van is outfitted with two fully equipped operation areas that are very similar to a regular sized dental office. The mobile dental unit provides a number of services.
Aside from the occasional challenge of finding parking for the dental clinic on wheels, Vazquez said the biggest difference between her former brick and mortar clinic and her mobile clinic is just that – its mobility. The location is always different. “We can be in Reno one day and rural Nevada on another day,” she said. “I enjoy the diversity, but mostly I enjoy providing a service to those who might not otherwise have access to care.”
As for the story behind the van, thanks again to networking, the American Dental Association was aware of Vazquez’ interest in mobile dental care and connected her to a community health center that had an already equipped vehicle for sale in Arkansas. She hit the road, in order to literally drive her business dream home.
Nevada SBDC guides covid’s entrepreneurship explosion
While Drop-In Dental is a unique business approach providing very niche service delivery to northern Nevada, Vazquez has plenty of company among Nevada’s startup scene. As the maxim goes, necessity is the mother of invention. As companies shut down, many new entrepreneurs started up new small businesses.
“The pandemic has fueled the growth of entrepreneurship and ignited a startup frenzy,” said SBDC’s Males. “The number of new small businesses in Nevada jumped from 140 in 2019, to 160 in in 2020. In just the first nine months of 2021, we’ve already seen 107 new small business startups, so we’re experiencing a startup boom, despite being against the backdrop of the ongoing pandemic.”
In addition to the stresses of the pandemic, entrepreneurs are likely to experience stress as venture initiators, so it’s crucial to get the right start.
“I couldn’t have done this alone, or without the support and guidance of the Nevada SBDC,” Vazquez said. “I would advise others to seek similar professional guidance, when starting a business – mobile, or otherwise. Business ownership can feel lonely sometimes and a good team is a must. The SBDC provided me with the processes to follow to take my idea from concept to fruition, and contacts to pursue. It's been a bumpy ride starting a business during a pandemic, and the road to success is constantly under construction - whether your business is on wheels, or not.”
Since starting up in 2020, Drop-In Dental has provide dental care to patients across locations in Washoe, Douglas and Lyon counties.
To learn more about supporting UNR Med's outreach clinics, please contact Shari Netzel, director of development, at (775) 682-6077 or firstname.lastname@example.org.