By Dorothy Bergin, New England Rural Health Round Table
Sherry Thornburg, executive director for the Ottauquechee Health Foundation in Woodstock, has an exciting new dental program underway that sends a licensed dental hygienist to where the people in need are—in this case, the Bugbee Senior Center in White River Junction and the Thompson Senior Center in Woodstock. The focus is on prevention and early identification of needs, all with the aim of catching seniors’ oral health problems before they escalate to the level of an emergency room visit.
The program is open to Upper Valley residents age 65 and older and is made possible with funding from the Ottauquechee Health Foundation in partnership with the Vermont Oral Health Coalition, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Community Health, and Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital Community Health.
Thornburg and colleagues from the above organizations brainstormed the idea of a “preventive” model of care for older adults. Needs assessments clearly show the gap in access to oral health care. The reasoning was to develop a program that makes it easy for older adults to participate.
In the first weeks of the program, alternating between the White River Junction and Woodstock centers, 17 seniors participated. The hygienist offers a dry brushing, fluoride varnish, and screening for oral cancer.
Older adults with dentures are also welcome to take part in the pilot program. The hygienist can assess the condition of the dentures and whether they fit properly so the person is able to enjoy a balanced diet. Many seniors suffer from poor nutrition precisely because of ill-fitting dentures.
Thornburg pointed out that Medicaid patients in Vermont are eligible for $510/per year in dental coverage, a benefit she says many people are not aware of. New Hampshire does not offer this Medicaid benefit, and Medicare does not cover any dental expenses.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact the Ottauquechee Health Foundation at 802-457-4188 or firstname.lastname@example.org.