Caring for a ‘forgotten group’
A new partnership with the City of Dallas reflects the needs of an aging population. It funds $300,000 in care to be given to seniors at Texas A&M College of Dentistry’s community-based clinical training sites. At these two community partners – the Baxter-Crowley Agape Clinic and North Dallas Shared Ministries – all medical and dental care and social services are provided in one location at little to no cost to patients.
In March, a $64,000 grant from the city opened the door to an uptick in senior dental care at both clinics, and as of May 24, $236,000 was added to that total when the Dallas City Council voted to approve a second grant to the dental school.
Outreach will be necessary to recruit more senior patients to the community clinics. Starting next month, Dr. Peggy Timothé, assistant professor in public health sciences, and the department’s two residents will travel to approximately 10 senior centers throughout Dallas. They expect to examine up to 50 individuals at each visit. Of an estimated 500 individuals to be examined, approximately 200 to 300 most in need will be selected and assigned to NDSM or Agape based on specific services offered at each location. The city will help coordinate transportation to both locations.
“If you look at the trend in terms of dentistry, we are all getting older, so this is where the big needs are going to be,” says Paul Hoffmann, administrative director of extramural clinics at the College of Dentistry. “We have some needs in terms of geriatrics that we need to educate our students on, as many of these patients haven’t had care in 20 years.”
There’s plenty Timothé expects to find during the screening appointments.
“Because a lot of the patients in this age range are on medications, one side effect is dry mouth. Dry mouth increases dental problems, especially dental decay,” Timothé explains. “With dry mouth, even dentures would probably need to be replaced. You need saliva to keep dentures in place.”
She also anticipates general health education to go hand in hand with the oral screenings.
“We expect to find individuals with issues such as high blood pressure and diabetes, and we want to make sure of how they are managing that.
“In my experience in going out into the community and doing this dental care where they are, it’s really appreciated, and it’s really needed,” Timothé says. “Patients have questions, and they are going to want the opportunity to ask questions in an environment where they are comfortable.”
While most of the funds will be spent on treatment for new patients, the remainder will be spent on senior patients who began receiving care at Agape and North Dallas Shared Ministries in March, when the first grant funding period began. The additional funds are a vote of confidence from the city.
They also fill a gaping hole in care for a number of Dallas’ residents aged 60 and older, approximately 350,000 strong.
The biggest and the largest forgotten group is our seniors,” says David Moore, immediate past president of Agape Clinic and a member of its board. “As a veteran and 67 years old myself, we’ve forgotten our seniors and our veterans,” he adds.
When Moore stops by Agape, he notices a trend. As young patients entertain themselves in the waiting room play area, the adults stationed in nearby chairs aren’t mom and dad, but instead are grandparents who often look after the kids while the children’s parents are at work.
“That is the door that is opening for us and for these people,” says Moore, a 1972 Texas A&M University graduate. “Many of them have never had a dental exam.”
For years, the focus at Agape was women and children, he explains.
“Now to be able to offer this to seniors is phenomenal. It’s not just getting your teeth fixed. It’s someone caring about you. Our students love their patients and care for their patients. Our seniors walk out of there with great pride because someone cares about them,” Moore says. “Without the Texas A&M dental school, none of this would be possible.”