Many elderly and disabled Iowans who live in long-term care facilities need more help taking care of their teeth, as Medicare and Medicaid only pay for emergency dental care.
Ten nursing homes within 40 miles of Iowa City are being served by what’s called the Geriatric Mobile Dental Unit. It’s run by Doctor Howard Cowen , a professor at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry.
“We take portable equipment, we go into the facility and we provide total, comprehensive care in the facility,” Dr. Cowen says. “That helps a lot because the Alzheimer’s patients, the dementia patients, the time of the year, all of the things that prevent people from getting out of the nursing facility, they can’t get access to care so we take the care to them.”
Most Iowa communities aren’t close enough to Iowa City to take advantage of the mobile unit, so Cowen says that’s where the “Lifelong Smiles Coalition” comes in.
“One of the big things we’ve done is, we’ve developed a curriculum called Mouth Care Matters, which is an oral health curriculum,” Cowen says. “It’s a two-day program for direct care workers to take so they can become oral health care champions within their agency or their facility to be able to hopefully increase the oral care of the residents in the facility that they’re associated with.”
Besides the proactive approach, many professionals agree that a change is needed so Medicaid will cover dental and oral care for elderly and disabled adults.
(Reporting by Michelle O’Neill, WVIK, Rock Island)