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Maryland Dentist Travels to Treat Elderly Patients

July 2, 2014

America’s vulnerable elderly face the greatest barriers to accessing dental care of any population group.

But delivering dental care to the nearly 1.3 million seniors in nursing homes has been problematic, because many have difficulty getting to the dentist’s office and are encumbered by several chronic diseases or conditions. Now, dentists across the country are adopting nursing homes in their communities, with the cost of care in some states offset by a little-known provision in Medicaid.

Dr. John Taylor, who is based in Baltimore, has provided care to frail, elderly people in their homes and in long-term care facilities throughout central Maryland for more than 30 years, specializing in treating those with developmental and cognitive disabilities.  

Currently a faculty member at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry and at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, he travels one and a half days each week to treat vulnerable elderly people.

“The reason I continue to focus my efforts in this area is because I want to help protect people’s efforts to live an entire life with a functioning mouth, and to be able to eat properly without pain and infection,” he said. “I want to ensure that they retain a sense of self-esteem, even when they become homebound or disabled and frail in their waning years.”

Dr. Taylor says many of his elderly patients suffer from diseases that incur memory loss, such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, which can drastically impede their daily dental habits. Patients with dementia in particular often suffer from a variety of untreated diseases before they’re admitted to a long-term care facility, because early detection depends on communication, which is one of the greatest barriers health care providers face in providing treatment.

“Their number one need is hygiene,” he said. “Basic, preventive care is what slips the most because of memory issues. Many of these people don’t remember to brush and don’t remember how to do it properly, which can lead to periodontal disease and caries.”

“It goes back to the basics,” he added. 

Elderly patients with cognitive issues are often easily confused, so dentists often prefer to treat them in a familiar setting such as their home or a long-term care facility rather than asking that patient to travel to the dentist’s office.

“The stress created for a confused person can be tremendous,” said Dr. Taylor. “These people typically have spent hundreds of hours in dental chairs throughout their lifetime. In their closing years, they shouldn’t be penalized simply because they can’t make it to the dental office.”