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Walker Methodist’s Oral Health Program is First of its Kind

Amy Weiss | Jun 14, 2022

Teaching how to Brush

Oral health is important for everyone, and it has significant connections to overall health. Daily care and regular visits can prevent sickness and disease, speech problems, and malnutrition. But many seniors don’t receive the care they need, and some older adults in long-term care need reminders on how to take care of their own oral health.

That’s why Walker Methodist’s Oral Health Program (OHP) is so important. Thanks to a grant from the Delta Dental Foundation, our OHP is the first and only program of its kind in the state. Leslie Scott-Smith, director of the oral health program, and her team of dental hygienists Susan Sarapa and Kal Dolkar offer care at Walker Place and the Health Center in Minneapolis, as well as other communities when needed.

“Our goal is to improve access to care for older adults in under-served communities. We want to serve more people,” said Leslie. “Bringing nursing, oral health, and other teams together for education fosters interdisciplinary collaboration. And this improves things for everyone.”

Elise, a speech therapist, shared about the education she’s received: “Having oral health professionals available is imperative for residents’ health, safety, and quality of life. As someone working specifically with individuals with swallowing disorders, the expertise and interventions from oral health professionals can decrease patients’ risk of choking.”

Leslie and her team are reaching this goal by providing oral assessments for residents, educating residents and team members, and training graduate and dental hygienist students. They will soon perform teledentistry visits in residents’ homes, including x-rays, teeth cleanings, and application of desensitizers and fluoride. Then, the team can do a live evaluation with a collaborative dentist or share the collected data.

“Limited mobility of residents should not be a barrier to proper care. When we interact with residents and they know we care about their oral health, that makes a huge difference,” Susan said. “We want to give residents the care and attention they deserve.”

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