By: Joel Rubin
It’s been called an “epidemic,” the poor state of teeth and gums among the nearly 1.4-million nursing home residents in the United States. That is why the Virginia Dental Association is looking to secure funding for a pilot study that could lead to the development of a long term solution to the dental care issues faced by many residents of long term care facilities.
The VDA, along with members of the Virginia Dental Hygienists Association, representatives from DentaQuest and other volunteers, shined a light on the problem during a screening event June 20 at the Envoy of Westover Hills nursing home in south Richmond. Twenty volunteers performed exams, conducted cleanings, extracted teeth and relined dentures. In total over $6,000 in donated care was provided but that is only a small amount of the dental need at this one facility. Medicaid provides little or no coverage for these procedures, which the VDA believes is shortsighted since poor oral health can lead to more complicated conditions requiring expensive hospital stays.
“We’ve known for a long time that water fluoridation and sealants prevent kids from getting cavities and decreases the overall cost of dental care,” says Richmond area dentist Dr. Frank Iuorno, who heads up a special VDA task force on the issue. “So it’s the same principle. You just carry it to the geriatric population. Prevention, is always best!”
The VDA contends a study would not only demonstrate the extent of the problem but also suggest options. “What if we had a dental coordinator in every nursing home who could help people keep their teeth clean, help the staff coordinate care that’s beyond what can be delivered on site and then either get a provider in or take that person to a nearby VDA dentist,” says Dr. Ted Sherwin, President of the VDA. “It would save the state quite a bit of money in the long run and bring important relief to some of our most vulnerable citizens.”
To Patricia Bonwell, a PhD and a hygienist at Lucy Corr Village in Chesterfield County, the goal is help nursing home residents “get healthy and stay healthy for the remaining time of their lives.”
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