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Virginia Dentists Plan Event for Nursing Home Residents

Recognizing that America's "greatest generation" suffers disproportionately high rates of dental disease, Virginia dentists will provide care to seniors in a Richmond-area nursing home this spring as a kick-off event for a greater push to improve access to dental care among that population.

The Virginia Dental Association is organizing the event, which will provide care to as many as 200 residents of a Richmond-area nursing home and will involve several dentists and their support staff, according to Dr. Ted Sherwin, who is president of the Virginia Dental Association.

"Our intent with this event is to shed light on the problem for state law- and policy-makers — some of whom we hope join us to see the problem first-hand," he said.

The kick-off event is part of a larger strategy to improve long-term care in nursing facilities throughout the state. A Virginia Dental Association task force on long-term care recently created a pilot program to place oral health coordinators in nursing homes once it receives grant funding. The coordinators will identify patients who need more treatment, screen them and refer them to area dentists.

"There aren't a lot of funds available for non-emergent dental care for seniors and this is true throughout the country," said Dr. Frank Iuorno, a practicing orthodontist in Richmond and the chair of the Virginia Dental Association's Long-Term Care Task Force. "Our task force is adapting the Give Kids A Smile model in Richmond and calling it Give Seniors A Smile. The challenge for us isn't buy-in from the dentists—a lot of them already deliver care to seniors. The challenge is coordinating preventive and restorative care to this population, thus eliminating the need for emergent care."

Dr. Sherwin, who practices in Orange, Va., tells of a longtime patient whose story is all too common.

"Jackie had been a patient of mine for several years," said Dr. Sherwin. "She had a passion for keeping her teeth, so she was an ideal patient, always maintaining the highest level of oral care at home. As Jackie got older, though, her dexterity diminished and along with some other health issues, so did the health of her mouth."

"What happened in the next few years was truly a sad experience for me, her dentist, as she began losing her teeth, for lack of daily care," said Dr. Sherwin. "When I contacted the nursing home, they were very concerned but did not have the staff or training to do the necessary oral health care for Jackie. It was a very troublesome experience for this young dentist."

In recent years, Dr. Sherwin and several of his colleagues have become increasingly concerned about the oral health of elderly patients and the lack of care provided in long-term care facilities.

"This concern has led to the Virginia Dental Association and ADA working together on understanding the severity and breadth of these issues, and to create some pilot programs that might improve the oral health of our valued senior citizens here in Virginia," he said.