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Maryland Dentists Hope to Spread Long-Term Care Through Pilot Project

March 20, 2014

Dentists and hygienists in Maryland provided care to more than two dozen residents at Rockville Nursing Home last month as a kick-off event for a project they hope will serve as a template to improve long-term care throughout the state.

Treatment included dental examinations with charting, cleanings, and fluoride varnish applications, according to Dr. Charles Doring, a staff dentist at the nursing home and Legislative Affairs Committee chair of the state dental association.

Denture services included adding the residents' names to dentures and repairs.

Following the clinical activity, a dental care in-service course was held for nursing home staff, residents, and their family members, who learned about proper brushing techniques, as well as how to take care of their teeth and the teeth of a resident or loved one who can no longer care for their own teeth.

The volunteer dental professionals were among about 100 who attended a January training session to learn how to incorporate geriatric care into their practices, according to Dr. Janet Yellowitz, Director of Geriatric Dentistry at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry. Seniors – especially those in nursing homes or long-term care facilities – often have special dental needs and complicated medical histories that require consideration and consultation with fellow medical providers.

The initiative was made possible through a partnership among the Maryland State Dental Association, Maryland Dental Hygienists Association, University of Maryland School of Dentistry and the Maryland Office of Oral Health. During the first phase, dental providers in the area were educated about the specific needs of seniors. They then learned some strategies to providing oral care to treat long-term care patients, and finally provided care in the Rockville facility.

It's a model of care the Maryland State Dental Association hopes to spread throughout the state.

"Every nursing facility needs to have a dentist on staff," Dr. Doring said. "The whole purpose of this initiative is to get more dental professionals comfortable with the idea of going into a nursing home and ensuring that the residents are getting the care they need."

Dentists and hygienists who participated in the pilot project are also part of a study entitled, "Oral Health Survey of Maryland Older Adults," according to Dr. Yellowitz. The idea is to measure the oral health status of adults 55 years and older in Maryland long-term care facilities to determine the type of care needed and where resources could best be placed.

"You don't have to spend a lot of money to provide dental services in long-term care facilities," Dr. Doring said. "If you have a patient who is moving out of their home and into an assisted-living facility, you have the opportunity to follow that patient along. To do that, you have to be credentialed, but it's not a complicated process."