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Action for Dental Health

Elderly Woman in Texas Nursing Home Gets Her Smile Back

June 2, 2014

Winnie Doria struggled for seven years to afford dental care in an assisted living facility in San Antonio after suffering a stroke at the age of 70.

“Her savings were drained,” recalls Ms. Doria’s daughter, Chris Alderete. 

But having limited financial resources to pay for medical expenses wasn’t her only problem. Because of the long-term effects of her stroke, Ms. Doria, like many elderly people, has difficulty traveling to a dentist’s office. 

Her dental health and overall well-being changed about 18 months ago when she moved into Morningside Ministries, a faith-based, nonprofit, long-term care facility in San Antonio. There she receives dental treatment from Dr. Sarah Dirks, whose practice, Geriatric Dental Group of South Texas, PA, specializes in providing care for the vulnerable elderly. 

“Because of this program, (the dental team is) able to see her in the facility,” said Ms. Alderete. “It has made my mother so happy.”

Ms. Doria is covered by a provision in Medicaid that pays for her expenses. The result is that Ms. Doria’s dental care has dramatically improved her overall well-being, and her health now appears to be better than that of her twin sister, Minnie, who still lives at home.

“When we can compare the quality of life my mother lives in this long-term care facility, it is much better than her twin’s, and a lot of that is access to care,” said Ms. Alderete. “The number of issues her twin faces are probably three times more than my mother’s because she still lives in her own home, so she has limited access to care, nutrition issues and social isolation.”

Dentures have made a big difference for Ms. Alderete’s mother.

“My mother will light up when she sees her grandkids and loves having her picture taken with them because she has her smile back, and that is very important to her,” she said. “When I look at quality of life in the later years, if you’re 90 and you feel good about yourself, you look at yourself in a whole other way.”

Bringing care to the vulnerable elderly in nursing homes is one component of Action for Dental Health.  The ADA has set a goal to train 1,000 dentists to provide care in nursing homes by 2020.