Senior Center Dental Program

This Senior Center Dental Program sponsored by SE-ALTC provides dental services (screenings, cleanings, and fluoride treatments) to seniors who would not otherwise be able to afford these services, on a free or donation basis.

Submitted by: Lori Brown, Director, Southeast Aging and Long Term Care

Approach
In March 2009, House Bill 1298 was passed, which enabled dental hygienists to practice independently at senior centers and school-based locations. SE-ALTC purchased mobile equipment for a hygienist to use at local senior centers and recruited an initial seven locations to join the program.

The contract for the program assured any potential liabilities were covered and quality assurance monitoring was integrated, as with all Area Agency on Aging service delivery programs.

The program is advertised in senior centers through posters and flyers. Seniors schedule appointments through their local I&A office. When seniors call to schedule an appointment, the following must occur before the appointment can be confirmed:

  1. The client needs to complete a basic questionnaire.
  2. SE-ALTC staff sends a permission form to the client’s physician for the physician to confirm that the client is in good health and can tolerate a dental visit (per RCW).
  3. When the permission form is received from the physician, SE-ALTC staff contacts the client to schedule the appointment.

The day of the appointments, someone from SE-ALTC or the senior center sets up the equipment and signs in the seniors. Upon arriving, the seniors fill out a medical history form and a second permission slip. The appointment is one hour. After the appointment, the seniors are asked to complete a satisfaction survey and are also provided resources including a referral sheet to local dentists and information on accessing low-cost dental care.

SE-ALTC made the decision to purchase equipment and contract with a dental hygienist to provide these dental services for seniors. Anther option for organizations to consider is to identify an independent hygienist who owns and operates their own mobile unit, to work directly with the senior centers.

Successes and Challenges

Successes

Because SE-ALTC has a long history of working successfully with senior centers and a commitment to oral health, there was a high level of credibility in the community.

Feedback from participants:

  • You are doing a great service for the people with no help.
  • This is a great service for low income seniors like myself. The advice about further dental care was much appreciated.
  • It was so wonderful to get my teeth cleaned and both women were kind and gentle and very knowledgeable.
  • This was a wonderful service and hopefully I can get started with the new dental clinic and get my teeth all fixed.
  • I believe that this is truly a beneficial and needed program. A real help to the community. Please keep funding it.

Challenges

  • Getting people to sign-up: At one site, the program has been operating for five years and there is a waiting list. However, in other places, it has been hard to get started. Planners’ need to further assess the barriers to getting started in new locations and identify strategies to overcome the barriers.
  • Money: Funding is not stable from year to year. Federal funding through the Older Americans Act (specifically, Health Promotion and Disease Prevention) and through the federal/state match program – Senior Citizens Service Act, can fluctuate especially with overstressed budgets.
  • Receptivity: Not all senior centers approached were receptive to having a hygienist come in or did not have appropriate physical space for the program.
  • Scheduling: Coordinating schedules that would work for the clients, caregivers, the hygienist, and the treatment room was a challenge.
  • Missed appointment: Due to illness, transportation barriers, or other issues some seniors have had difficulty keeping appointments.

Lessons Learned

  • Reminders: Designate someone to call clients the day before the appointment to make sure the client remembers the appointment, knows where they are going, and that they have transportation, if needed.
  • Marketing: Even though you think people will jump at the opportunity for dental care, they may not. It helps to proactively plan and implement strategies to get the program off the ground via marketing, word of mouth, and other outreach strategies.
  • Schedule “Standby” clients: Have a client available on standby or as a “walk-in” in case someone does not show up for their appointment. That way you can still fill the slot.

Support Materials

The following materials were developed by SE-ALTC to support the Senior Center Dental Program. They may be useful to your organization if you are considering establishing this type of project.

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