Dental clinic hits the road to care for aged

by Hilary Thomson
Staff writer

With dental equipment worth thousands of dollars resting in the back seat, Asst. Prof. Michele Williams doesn't bring the big white van to any sudden stops.

The equipment is one of the units that travels to long-term care facilities throughout B.C. as part of UBC's Dental Program for Seniors, a new mobile dental service for institutionalized elderly.

The program, which Williams directs, is the only one of its kind in B.C. and offers province-wide support for geriatric dentistry through treatment, training for dental students and continuing education for practicing dentists.

"Seniors in care are a truly under-serviced population, many of whom are challenging to treat because of multiple health problems," says Williams, who teaches in the Oral Biological and Medical Sciences Dept.

Self-contained portable units about the size of a mini-bar each contain a water supply, suction unit and generator for running state-of-the-art operating drills and other equipment. A high-powered gooseneck lamp can be connected to the unit and a separate tool kit holds sterile equipment and dental materials.

The mobile dental office plugs into any wall socket and can be rolled to a patient's bedside.

One of Williams' goals is to prepare every graduating dentist to provide some geriatric services in his or her own community.

Patients at Lower Mainland care facilities are first screened by Williams, colleagues Mylene Boridy and Susan Bermingham, dental students and residents. The team then returns to complete the required dental work on a fee-for-service basis, allowing students to learn first hand the skills needed to care for the elderly.

Where the treatment required is too complex to be done on-site, team members care for the patients in hospital through a special agreement with Vancouver Hospital and Health Sciences Centre.

"Besides direct service we educate care aides, facility administrators and family members about oral hygiene for institutionalized seniors," says Williams. Four of the program's six portable units have been dispatched to regional health units across B.C. A fifth is used for research.

The portable units are a vital step towards building a network of B.C. dentists and dental hygienists working in geriatric care. Together with other faculty members, Williams offers province-wide continuing dental education on caring for B.C.'s approximately 23,000 institutionalized seniors.

Funding for the UBC Dental Program for Seniors is provided by the Seniors' Foundation of British Columbia.