Nursing home residents need regular dental care just like the rest of us. But most of them have problems getting to their dentists’ offices, putting them at risk for potentially serious oral health problems, according to Greg Heintschel, DDS, Dental Director of Dental Clinics North, a system of dental clinics in partnership with local health departments that serves low-income people.
“With our new mobile equipment, we are able to remove a major barrier to dental care for some of the people who need it the most—residents of long-term care facilities,” he said.“Just being in an older age group increases risks for tooth loss, gum disease, or oral cancer.”
Nursing home residents, usually diagnosed with at least one chronic disease, are especially vulnerable to oral health problems, said Patti Ulrich, who coordinates Community Programs and Outreach for Dental Clinics North. “Oral health problems can exacerbate heart problems and lung infections. People with diabetes are particularly prone to dental problems. Many medications can cause dry mouth, causing discomfort and more tooth decay.”
Heintschel and Ulrich have already contacted the 30 long-term care facilities in the Dental Clinics North service area across the tip of Michigan. They expect to contract with at least 15 of them over the next 12 months for on-site dental visits.
“With regular visits to nursing homes, our dentists and hygienists can identify and treat residents’ oral health problems before they become serious,” said Heintschel.
The Health Department of Northwest Michigan is mandated by the Michigan Public Health Code to promote wellness, prevent disease, provide quality healthcare, address health problems of vulnerable populations, and protect the environment for the residents and visitors of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties. For additional information about the Dental Clinics North’s Long-Term Care Mobile Dental Project, contact Ulrich at 231-547-7648.