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A One-of-a-Kind Geriatric Dentistry Service

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Access to dental services in residential care facilities is challenging.  Many community dentists have difficulty providing care to the frail elderly; their offices are often not able to cater to the specialized needs of this population, and oral health is often neglected as a result. 

The Centre for Aging and Health responded to this need by partnering with the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of British Columbia to develop an on-site program - the Geriatric Dentistry Service (GDS). Through a needs assessment conducted in 2000 at Providence Health Care residential facilities, the GDS identified a profound need in the resident population for a quality comprehensive dental care service. Over 70% of assessed residents suffered from dental conditions ranging from caries to gingival, mucosal, and periodontitis problems.

The GDS comprises four core elements: dental care for residents; prevention; education of staff, residents, and future dentists; and research on geriatric dentistry. The underlying philosophy is to improve the quality of life of residents by keeping them pain-free and infection-free. As an integrated whole, these elements combine to deliver on current and future dental health needs of regional residents. 

Dental care:  The overall goal is to improve the quality of life of residents through good oral health. To this end, dental team members perform annual oral exams and provide dental care. A catalog of resident dental conditions is created, allowing the development of individualized treatment plans.  Treatments may range from denture fitting or replacement to clinical hygiene or complex dental surgery. Restorative procedures and extractions are performed at one of the three satellite clinics; complex procedures are performed at the UBC Dental Clinic. The dental team consists of general dentists, a dental hygienist, certified dental assistants, and dental specialists.

Prevention: A dental hygienist delivers training programs in daily oral hygiene to staff. The education incorporates a lecture session followed by an oral hygiene demonstration. In addition, a Mouthcare Guidelines and Protocols package has been developed. 

Teaching: This includes training of future dentists through the exposure of undergraduate students to geriatric dentistry coupled with a dental residency program. Senior UBC dental students are given opportunities to participate in two clinical rotations. The dental residency aspect entails a two-month rotation.  Continuing dental education is also offered through the vehicle of a multi-disciplinary study club mentored by the program leader.

Research in geriatric dentistry: The data being compiled during the operations of this program has been used to publish two papers to date.  More are anticipated to follow as data compilation continues. Research is performed in conjunction with the ELDERS (Elders Link with Dental Education Research and Service) group at UBC. 

The Geriatric Dentistry Service is unique in Canada and provides leadership in the development of protocols for elder oral care. As a result of the VCHA's commitment to this service, the Geriatric Dentistry Service has now expanded this unique and high calibre service to other residential and intermediate care sites within the Region. The total population of residents served is now approximately 1200.

For further information contact:

Dr. Chris Wyatt (Program Director) at 604.822.1778