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Virginia Dentists Bring Yearlong Pilot Program to Provide Dental Care to Residents of Long-Term Care Facilities

June 25, 2015

A group of Virginia dentists, hygienists and others interested in oral health established a yearlong pilot program they hope will show the value of preventive care for seniors living in long-term care facilities.

Through the Virginia Dental Association’s program, which started in May, a hygienist and assistant are providing preventive care to the residents of Trinity Mission Health and Rehab in Charlottesville and Lexington Court Rehabilitation and Healthcare in Richmond, according to Dr. Frank Iuorno, who chairs the initiative. Local dentists then provide more comprehensive care for residents who need it.  

“We have high hopes for the pilot program for seniors,” he said. “We believe ongoing dental care within a long-term care facility will improve the lives of residents and reduce the burden on the health care system.”

Dr. Iuorno noted that prevention is key to reducing disease among nursing home residents. Poor daily mouth care can result in pain, infection, eating difficulties and even preventable hospitalizations.

“Our hope is that through this pilot project, we can get some hard data to show that there is a fiscal benefit to providing preventive care to these patients,” he said.

Seniors – especially those in nursing homes or long-term care facilities – often have special dental needs and complicated medical conditions.

There are approximately 1.4 million senior citizens in nursing facilities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). America’s population of people ages 65 and older is expected to double during the next 50 years, and while federal regulations require nursing homes to provide oral health services, funding is often not available, said Dr. Iuorno.

“This is a nationwide problem that’s going to become a huge issue in years to come,” he added.

When the American Dental Association launched Action for Dental Health, which is a nationwide, grassroots movement aimed at improving the oral health of underserved populations, it pledged that at least 10 state dental associations would be committed to implementing a long-term care program to improve the oral health of nursing home residents by 2015. The ADA has worked with 14 state dental associations to implement long-term care programs, and dentists in several other states are working with the vulnerable elderly.

“This is an issue that affects everyone,” said Dr. Iuorno. “It’s going to hit you in life as a dentist, either personally or professionally.”