Sara Mantlik and Jackie Janssen were once opponents brought together by a cause bigger than the rivalry that existed between their high schools. As Mantlik had gone to Mountain Pointe High School and Janssen to Desert Vista, they were destined to be rivals. Now as seniors at Arizona State University, both majoring in engineering, they found a common cause – providing access to health care for those who most needed it.

Mantlik and Janssen helped found a team at ASU called Engineering Smiles, who have set out to develop a mobile dental clinic for use during medical missions in one of the world’s most impoverished countries. Partnering with the California-based non-profit IMAHelps, the team is working to design a mobile clinic that will be put to use in Nicaragua, a country where adequate medical facilities and access to reliable electricity is difficult to come by. “IMAHelps currently sends volunteer dentists and doctors to communities in Central and South America where they see dentistry as a luxury and where there is really nowhere for them to perform their procedures,” Mantlik said. “They often have to work in the hallways or storage closets of hospitals where they would create a crude workspace.”

Dental care is not readily available in the developing world, particularly in Nicaragua, considered the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti. As well, dental health can have a dramatic effect both on the overall health of a patient and even the socioeconomic status of an individual.

“Seeing how little access the patients had to dental care gave me some appreciation for its worth, especially when I started to see how dental hygiene affected the rest of your health and life,” Mantlik said. “These are communities where if you lose your permanent teeth it can affect your ability to find a job.”

When Mantlik went on a trip to El Salvador this past August, she had the chance to see first hand the plight of residents and volunteers alike as doctors have struggled to provide adequate care in subpar conditions. At one point they were forced to use an abandoned massage table propped up by discarded newspapers as an improvised dental chair.

This mobile center Engineering Smiles is designing will provide a solution to all of the doctors’ problems in a compact trailer with a self-sustaining setup. The 50-foot trailer will house four dentist chairs and an X-ray machine and will be powered by both a generator and solar panels. It will also have air conditioning and its own water supply, and will be capable of handling everything from root canals to full reconstructive surgery. However, these amenities are not just for the patients, says IMAHelps volunteer and board member Jeff Crider.

“Dentists in the States are accustomed to working in stationary offices and not improvising care in makeshift situations,” Crider said. “So by having a mobile dental clinic, we think it would make it easier for us to recruit additional dentists to volunteer with us on our missions.”

The mobile center is still in the design and fundraising phase, with the team hoping to begin construction starting in May 2016, depending on how their fundraising effort goes. They have a crowd funding campaign on with a current goal of $15,000 that would go towards expenses for the trailer.

“We are also looking for companies who are willing to donate medical supplies and dental instruments, as well,” Mantlik said.

Once the trailer is fully constructed, the plan is to use the trailer to serve several Native American communities for the first six months both as a way to test the trailer and to help some of the poorest local communities before they go on to provide medical care abroad. After that the trailer will be sent to Nicaragua. When the mobile center is not being used to serve the Nicaraguan community it will be stationed at a university where it will be used to train the next generation of dentists.

After they graduate, Janssen hopes to work internationally for a non-profit organization and Mantlik wants to continue to use her engineering expertise to serve medical missions. Either way, they will both serve as sterling examples of what young women can accomplish when they think big and act selflessly.

For more information or to donate to Engineering Smiles, visit

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