Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the correct name of the woman who co-founded Dental Care in Your Home.
Dental professionals are hitting the road in vans as part of an Albuquerque healthcare program that treats hundreds of elderly in their homes and at assisted living centers.
Dental Care in Your Home is the brainchild of Cathy Elliott, an Albuquerque dental hygienist, who noticed a few years ago that some of her longtime patients had stopped visiting the dentist’s office, where she still works. She learned that many no longer received dental care because they were homebound due to illness or were in nursing homes.
Elliott, who runs the mobile nonprofit healthcare organization on a shoestring budget, a small staff and two vans, has grown the patient load from 100 patients in 2012 to 634 patients in 2015.
“Not to brag, but this is a godsend for many of our clients,” said Elliott, who pitches in on her day off. The team is lean, and so is the money to run the service: about $200,000 per year. Dental Care in Your home has a paid full-time practice manager and a rotating crew of paid part-timers: two dentists, two hygienists and three dental assistants. A retired dentist and Elliott donate their time and talent.
Financially, the organization is supported by grants and donations and is an approved provider of several dental insurance carriers, which brings reimbursement for the care. In addition, some seniors on fixed-incomes are able to pay cash for dentistry.
“Sometimes, it’s a hard choice to make — out-of-pocket dental care on one or two Social Security checks or paying for car repairs, food and utilities and other medical bills,” Elliott said. The organization has donated more than $150,000 in care to seniors. Sixty percent of the clients are 80 and over.
It took awhile to have all the legal and licensing requirements in place for Dental Care in Your Home to be an approved mobile provider.
Medicare, the largest provider of healthcare for people over 65, does not cover routine dental care. “That’s really criminal because oral health is so important,” Elliott said.
With two Dodge retrofitted vans filled with dental equipment and supplies, the teams care for four or five patients a day.
Tools of the trade include rolled dental equipment, such as a hand-held X-ray machine that staffers call the “ray gun.”
Another volunteer — a retired dentist — reviews the X-rays, writes prescriptions and recommends treatment plans. Services include cleanings, fillings, extractions, root canals and denture and partial adjustments.
Trying to be as cost-efficient as possible, Elliott said patients have seen good results from affordable silver nitrite treatments on broken teeth and inflamed gums, followed by a fluoride rinse.
“It’s a wonderful technique,” she said of the treatments, which the team began using about two years ago. “Lots of people with dentures or partials have lost weight, so the (dental) appliances no longer fit so well. We adjust them so they do fit. They can have a more nutritious diet and socialize.
“They can smile more,” she said of her patients. *