Operated by the New Hanover and Brunswick county health departments, the Miles of Smiles mobile dental clinic stops at 19 schools a year to screen and treat low-income children. With proof of Medicaid enrollment, students are seen for free. The mobile dental clinic has served more than 5,000 North Carolina kids since it began operating in 2006.

Three rural North Carolina counties lack any active dentists, according to the latest statewide data: Hyde, Tyrell, and Camden counties. In more than twenty others, there are two dentists per 10,000 residents, or less, and not all dentists accept Medicaid. This puts low-income families living in rural areas in a bind.

“We have kids every day that drive two, three hours to come see us here, at Chapel Hill,” said Lee, “which still shocks me today, being on the faculty 15 years, that they would drive that far to come access care.”