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Mobile Dental Team Provides Care to Elderly in Nebraska, Iowa

September 23, 2014

America’s vulnerable elderly in nursing homes have more trouble accessing dental care than any other group in this country.

Many suffer from chronic conditions that impede their mobility, which affects their ability to properly brush their own teeth. And during the transition from their homes to long-term care facilities, many seniors lose contact with their primary dentists.

A dental team traveling in a large van regularly visits about 25 nursing homes in Nebraska and Iowa to provide care for the people living there, according to Dr. Scott Morrison, a dentist from Omaha who co-founded the program with colleagues and the Nebraska Dental Association.

“This method of delivering care came about after a friend of mine, Tom Pflug, asked NDA Executive Director David O’Doherty about the difficulties he faced in getting his father, who was in a memory-support facility, to visit the dentist,” said Dr. Morrison. “After the three of us discussed the issue, we thought there had to be a better way to deliver care to people in those circumstances than making them travel to see the dentist.”

The van is equipped with two dental chairs and a team consisting of a dentist, hygienist, patient manager and business manager, he said.

Mr. Pflug, Dr. Morrison and Mr. O'Doherty found a group of investors in 2007 to help purchase a vehicle equipped to hold two dental operatories, which are the working spaces where dentists practice.  

“At around the same time there was a lot of media attention focusing on treating the elderly in long-term care facilities, so we decided that it made sense for us to go out into in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa,” he said.

The dental team travels in the van to about 25 communities that are no more than an hour’s drive from Omaha. Nursing home staff takes the patients to the facility’s parking lot, where they are brought into the van, which is wheelchair accessible. The team then provides a range of dental procedures based on what each patient needs. Procedures range from cleanings to bridges and extractions.

“We make sure that the team returns to each facility on a regular basis to build a patient relationship,” said Dr. Morrison.

Providing care to the vulnerable elderly in long-term care facilities is one of eight initiatives comprising Action for Dental Health, the ADA’s nationwide, community-based movement focused on providing care now for people suffering from untreated dental disease, strengthening the existing public/private safety net, and bringing dental health education and disease prevention to underserved communities.

This fall, the ADA will begin offering online training for dentists interested in providing care for nursing homes residents. “Dentistry in Long-term Care: Creating Pathways to Success” is an eight-module, self-paced online course that highlights long-term care delivery models, regulatory and legal compliance, creating and organizing an oral health program, working with complex patients, financial considerations in nursing homes, establishing an environment where effective daily mouth care occurs, and accessing scientific literature.