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Statewide Effort Underway to Improve Oral Health of Maine Seniors

October 21, 2014

Maine is developing a new educational pilot program to train health care providers who work with elders in long-term care facilities to better meet the needs of America’s most vulnerable population.

The program, Maine’s Oral Team-Based Initiative: Vital Access to Education (MOTIVATE), was created after Dr. Leonard Brennan, a general dentist in Portland, Maine, discussed how oral health affects overall health during the 23rd Annual Maine Geriatrics Conference last year in Bar Harbor.

After the presentation, Lunder-Dineen Health Education Alliance of Maine, which works with the state’s health care community to identify health education needs at the grassroots level and create educational interventions designed to bridge those gaps, expressed interest in developing a model of oral health care for seniors. The alliance was formed with funding from the Lunder Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital.

“Initially, it was sort of a new concept for the dental and medical communities,” said Dr. Brennan. “Once they saw some of the evidence-based data that I was looking at, and the fact that we’re talking about a population that has some of the greatest healthcare needs in this country, the project quickly went to one of the top 10 projects to be seriously considered for funding and development.”

Stakeholders for the project include the University of Maine, the University of New England and its dental school, the Maine Dental Association and Maine Veterans Homes, according to Dr. Brennan.

Lunder-Dineen and its partners will first conduct a needs assessment to determine how people working in long-term care facilities are addressing the dental conditions of its residents, decide how to best improve oral health among those seniors, and develop educational materials for healthcare workers, seniors and their families.

The first assessment surveys will be completed in Maine’s Veterans Affairs facilities that house seniors. Maine has one of the oldest populations in the country, he noted.

“We want to know what the certified nursing assistants know, what the dieticians know, what the kitchen help knows,” said Dr. Brennan. “If everyone who comes into contact with the patients knows how they are affecting them, then we can go back and work on a preventive model instead of repairing the neglect.”

Dr. Brennan said the goal is to improve the oral and overall health for residents in long-term care facilities, improve the skills and expertise of people working in those nursing homes and help raise awareness of the connections between oral and overall health.

The team will develop educational models after the assessments are completed.

“What has been great for us is that we have a vehicle to affect change,” said Dr. Brennan. “We have people who are interested in this program – dedicated people who have always wanted to be involved in helping seniors.”

Providing care to the vulnerable elderly in long-term care facilities is one of eight initiatives that make up  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 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.