Proper dental care is a particularly critical issue for seniors. Many recent studies have confirmed that oral health is crucial to seniors’ overall physical and emotional well-being.
Yet physical difficulties and cognitive challenges like dementia often present formidable obstacles, keeping seniors from the dental care they need, particularly at assisted living communities, where shear numbers compound the problem.
Put simply, it is often extremely difficult, even prohibitively so, to get senior home residents to a dentist’s office, even in the case of emergencies or serious conditions that have long gone undetected.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, however, there is one dental practice dedicated to overcoming these barriers. Bay Area House Call Dentists, a service of the San Francisco-based Blende Dental Group, brings high quality, compassionate dental care to the homes of special needs patients who can’t travel to a dentist.
In addition to visiting private homes, the House Call Dentists team provides convenient, affordable group screenings at senior residence homes throughout the Bay Area. The team performs thorough, hands-on examinations for each resident, including photographs and x-rays, and takes immediate steps to alleviate pain when possible. The dentists scan for a spectrum of issues, from tooth decay and ill-fitting dentures to infection and even signs of throat and oral cancer.
Dr. Cheryl Elacio, BAHCD’s Director of House Call Services points out that dental health for seniors is more important than many people realize.
“It’s so important to the everyday quality of life,” she says. “Some people can’t even tell us when they are in pain, but they still suffer, and that keeps them from having enjoyable days. And we know that dental issues like tooth decay and gum disease are infections that can lead directly to more serious overall health problems.”
This isn’t a business model designed to maximize profits, as the group screenings are time consuming and may not lead to longer-term patient relationships. But Dr. David Blende, head of the Blende Group, is attracted first and foremost to the public service aspect of his team’s work.
“I originally built a career performing rehabilitation dentistry in Beverly Hills,” said Dr. Blende, who has more than 20 years of experience in both hospital and private practice settings. “But we started seeing more and more patients with special needs. It became more satisfying for me to work with those patients who really needed the help, to make a real positive impact on people’s lives.”
After the screenings, the House Call Dental team prepares reports for each resident’s primary caregiver, pointing out conditions that are immediately pressing. When invited by that caregiver, a House Call Dentists representative will present a range of follow-up treatment options specifically designed for that patient.
“We know that many of the families of the seniors we see will not be able to afford a comprehensive dental treatment plan, much as they wish they could,” Dr. Blende says. “They may have to stick with addressing one or two vital trouble spots, or they might pass on further treatment entirely. We understand that. But we can let them know where their loved ones stand. And, most importantly, we can make it very easy for everyone involved by traveling to the people who can’t come to us. By coming to these patients, we’re overcoming the biggest barrier they face to receiving dental care.”
The Bay Area House Call Dentists team is also aware of the importance of working closely with the healthcare professionals and administrators of the residence homes they visit Brian Swope, Executive Director of Sunrise of San Mateo, has become a fan.
“When it comes to keeping people pain-free and allowing them to get all the nourishment they need, oral health is extremely important,” Swope says. “We want our residents to have a good quality of life, every day and for as long as possible. Having the House Call Dentists team come on site helps us a lot. We don’t have to disrupt our residents’ lives, get them into a van for a long drive. ”
Like all members of the BAHCD team, Dr. Elacio feels that performing house call dentistry and serving the senior community and other special needs patients gives her work special meaning.
“We remove the barriers standing between our patients and the dental care they need,” she said. “And I love working with special needs patients, speaking with them and learning about them personally. They’re often very wise. They give me a different insight about dentistry and about life.”