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Action for Dental Health movement

April 21, 2014

Seattle clinic: (From left) Drs. Bart Johnson, Amy Winston and Noah Letwin of Seattle Special Care Dentistry and Swedish Hospital general practice residency. Photo courtesy of WSDA News
Chairside: Dr. Amanda Spivey offers care at Seattle's Swedish Hospital clinic. Photo courtesy of WSDA News
Dentists throughout the country are taking action to improve the nation's dental health by delivering care now to those already suffering with disease, strengthening the dental safety net and bringing dental health education and disease prevention into communities.

The American Dental Association on May 15, 2013, launched Action for Dental Health: Dentists Making a Difference, a nationwide campaign addressing America's dental health crisis. The Action for Dental Health website is a repository for stories showcasing local and state activity to increase access to dental care.

Seattle medical center finds solution to people seeking dental care in the ER

The number of people seeking treatment in one Seattle emergency department has dropped significantly since the inception of a program that refers patients with nonemergency dental problems to local community health centers. The Seattle model for underserved patients owes its success to a partnership among Swedish Medical Center's Community Specialty Clinic, Swedish General Practice Residency, which is a hospital-based postgraduate training program in general dentistry, area community health centers and a patient navigation organization, according to Dr. Noah Letwin, SCSC dental director.

Alaska dentists host first Mission of Mercy event

Dentists throughout the country gathered in Alaska April 11-12 to provide care to an estimated 1,589 underserved Alaskans during the state's first Mission of Mercy event, where volunteer dentists offer services free of charge. Some 240 dentists, many from in the state but others from Florida, Nevada, Oregon and Texas, joined approximately 1,300 community volunteers at the Dena'ina Center in Anchorage, according to Dr. David Nielson, executive director of the Alaska Dental Society. "I would say what makes this one unique compared to other Mission of Mercy events is just the size of our state dental society," Dr. Nielson said. "We're by far probably the smallest state in terms of members who have tried to pull this off. It shows how much you can do from a community standpoint, and you don't necessarily need a gigantic dental society staff."

Providing dental care for patients with dementia

Among a population of nearly 1.3 million nursing home residents struggling to receive dental care, patients with dementia are particularly at risk for untreated dental disease and the severe health consequences that can result. Nursing home facilities are required by law to provide residents with routine and emergency dental care, but delivering that care has been problematic. Now, dentists across the country are adopting nursing homes in their communities using the existing public health safety net in an effort to reach out to one of America's most vulnerable populations.

Texas dentist demonstrates successful model for treating the elderly in nursing homes

Dr. Sarah Dirks started Geriatric Dental Group of South Texas in 2006 after 18 years teaching at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Some 75 percent of Dr. Dirks' patients live in long-term care facilities, and 25 percent live in their homes with the help of family or professional caregivers. Dr. Dirks was quoted in The New York Times as saying, "Every nursing home needs an oral care champion." Some dentists may be hesitant to treat patients who have complex medical issues and unaware of a little-known provision in Medicaid law that allows some nursing home residents to use their social security payments to cover medically necessary dental expenses not covered by their state's Medicaid.

Your turn to share

The Association invites you to share your Action for Dental Health story by contacting Rhys Saunders in the ADA Public Affairs Department at The ADA News will provide periodic coverage of these initiatives, including the ones recently reported at the ADH website.

To read the full versions of the stories shared on this page, visit Action for Dental Health at