Dental ‘house calls’ guide seniors to access care

Faculty, residents conduct screenings at facilities serving seniors
August 22nd, 2017
taking screenings for seniors out to the community

Drs. Aparna Biradar and Peggy Timothe with screening patient Shirley Davis at Carpenter’s Point Active Adult Living community in Dallas.

To the public health sciences personnel taking dental screenings and health checks on the road to Dallas senior citizens, one thing stands out: they are traveling to this group’s comfort zone.

“We’ve learned the seniors are often afraid to go to the dentist,” says Paul Hoffmann, administrative director of extramural clinics. “The center managers I’ve talked to say, ‘For you to come out here to a place they’re comfortable with, in the company of their peers, makes such a difference.’ That has really been the case. Familiarizing this group with the available services seems to impact their willingness to access care.”

The City of Dallas’ $300,000 in funding to Texas A&M College of Dentistry brings dental care within reach, but the first priority is identifying the low- to moderate-income senior patients most in need of service.

That process is well underway through 10 screening events that began in July and continue through September at senior facilities, recreation centers and senior living centers. The events’ success is due in no small part to assistance from center personnel in promoting awareness and participation among the seniors they serve.

Dr. Peggy Timothé, assistant professor in public health sciences and director of the dental public health graduate residency program, leads the screening team with current residents Drs. Aparna Biradar and Namrata Rathod. Help with registration, translation and logistics comes from postdoctoral research associate Dr. Sowmya Renuka, program coordinator Priscilla Diaz, and Hoffmann, who reports turnout has been good so far.

dental screenings for senior citizens in the community

A portable dental chair and transported supplies transform a small area off the apartment complex exercise room into a space for the screenings.

“Almost two-thirds of the patients we’ve screened need either partial or full dentures, mostly replacements,” Hoffmann says. “Most of them haven’t been to a dentist in 15 to 20 years.” In addition to oral assessments, the dentists take health histories and screen for hypertension, diabetes, depression and tobacco use.

Scheduling has begun for these patients at Baxter-Crowley Agape Clinic and North Dallas Shared Ministries, two community clinics staffed by the College of Dentistry.

The Senior Dental Health Care Program offered in partnership with the dental college is now included within the city’s budget on an ongoing basis, Hoffmann says.

“What we’re doing in enhancing oral health care is part of the priority the city is emphasizing for senior services,” he adds.

— Carolyn Cox