A pilot program in Saskatoon aiming to improve oral health care for seniors living in long-term care (LTC) facilities was launched in January. The program stems from a multidisciplinary coalition that includes the University of Saskatchewan College of Dentistry, the College of Dental Surgeons of Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Dental Assistants Association, the Saskatchewan Dental Hygienists Association, the Saskatchewan Dental Therapists Association, the Saskatoon Health Region and the Saskatoon Oral Health Coalition.
“This is a perfect example of the whole dental team working collaboratively to address the oral health needs of seniors and represents one of many innovative models that are being used all across Canada in LTC,” says Dr. Mitch Taillon, CDA Board member for Saskatchewan and chair of the National Coordinating Working Group on Access to Care for Children and Seniors, a CDA priority project.
Two LTC facilities were chosen to deliver the pilot program, which involves a dental assistant working with staff in LTC facilities to promote daily oral health care practices and coordinate the on-site dental services. In addition, 2 dental residents from the university make weekly visits to the facilities and provide seniors with free initial oral health assessments and guidance on maintaining good oral health care.
“It’s desperately needed,” says Leslie Topola, program manager of the Saskatoon Health Region’s Oral Health Program. “Clients in long-term care do not have access to oral health treatments other than for the handful of clients with families who have the ability to take them to visit private dental practitioners.”
The pilot program is based on work that started in 2007, when general practitioners Dr. Raju Bhargava in Saskatoon and Dr. Maureen Lefebvre in Regina led an oral health care initiative for seniors in LTC.
Based on the pilot program’s success, the coalition’s next steps are to develop a model of oral health in LTC that incorporates best practices. Ultimately, the coalition hopes the pilot program will provide a framework for a province-wide oral health care program in LTC facilities.
Improving the delivery of oral health care in LTC facilities is an important part of improving access to care for seniors. Other work being done in this area, conducted through Dalhousie University, was recently reported in JCDA.