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First Virtual Dental Home Comes To Senior Housing

First "virtual dental home" comes to senior housing University of the Pacific, partners bring teledentistry to underserved elderly in Los Angeles Sept. 14, 2015 – For residents of the Kingsley Manor retirement community in old Hollywood, toothache is about to

First “virtual dental home” comes to senior housing

University of the Pacific, partners bring teledentistry to underserved elderly in Los Angeles

Sept. 14, 2015 – For residents of the Kingsley Manor retirement community in old Hollywood, toothache is about to become less of a pain.

In a first for senior housing in California, residents of Kingsley Manor who face financial or other barriers to traditional care will receive routine diagnostic and preventive dental services right where they live. The initiative will expand to underserved residents at other senior housing communities and centers in Southern California in the months ahead.

The care is made possible by a three-year, $275,000 grant from the California Wellness Foundation to University of the Pacific, a pioneer in the use of teledentistry to address the crisis in access to dental care among underserved Californians.

A key goal will be to demonstrate the financial sustainability of a model of care known as the virtual dental home in a senior residential facility setting. The model, developed at University of the Pacific’s Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, uses telehealth technology to link dental hygienists in the community with dentists in dental offices and clinics.

Partners in the project are the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing, a nonprofit organization that strives to harness technology solutions that support and enhance well-being in older adults, and QueensCare Health Centers, a Los Angeles-based federally qualified health center that provides primary and preventive care to the underserved.

“This expansion of the virtual dental home system represents a historic milestone in improving the oral health of the population,” said Paul Glassman, professor of dental practice at Pacific’s Dugoni School of Dentistry and director of the Pacific Center for Special Care. “It has the potential to prevent oral disease and relieve suffering for tens of thousands of Californians who currently have no access to a dentist.”

Glassman’s previous research has demonstrated the effectiveness of the system in Head Start preschools, elementary schools, low-income housing communities, group homes for developmentally disabled adults and nursing homes.

He and his team have shown that approximately two thirds of patients seen in a virtual dental home are able to receive the care they need at the community site. The others are referred to area dentists.

After establishing a virtual dental home at Kingsley Manor, University of the Pacific, the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing, and QueensCare Health Centers plan to roll the model out to other retirement and affordable housing communities.

“As we age, our dental needs change, and so does our ability to get to the dental office—these problems are compounded when access to basic, quality dental care becomes an affordability issue among underserved older adults,” said Davis Park, director of the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing. “The virtual dental home program is an important emerging model of care that uses telehealth to bring needed services to older adults where they are—at their homes and in their communities.”

The grant will support the work of two dental hygienists who received advanced training from Glassman’s team at Pacific. The hygienists will provide preventive oral health care to Kingsley Manor residents. Under a new state law that took effect in January, the hygienists also will be able to place interim fillings as directed by a QueensCare Health Centers dentist via telehealth.

QueensCare Health Centers also will step in to serve patients with more complex dental needs when indicated.

“This program strengthens dental care access in the Los Angeles communities that need it the most, and we look forward to this new model of care becoming a standard within underserved populations,” said Alex Armstrong, chief operating officer of QueensCare Health Centers.

The project is just one of the efforts under way to expand virtual dental home care in California. Glassman and his team recently trained dental hygienist educators from several dozen dental hygiene schools around the state in the placement of interim fillings. These educators are now able to teach the technique to their students.

And Pacific’s Dugoni School of Dentistry plans to begin training students in teledentistry as part of its curriculum, becoming the first dental school in the nation to do so. In the next few years, all of the graduates of Pacific’s dental and dental hygiene education programs will graduate with experience serving people in community locations using telehealth-connected teams.

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