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Virtual Dental Home Comes to California Senior Community

September 17, 2015
by Rajiv Leventhal
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The California-based University of Pacific is working on a teledentistry initiative that aims to bring preventative dental care to underserved Californians in senior housing communities.

According to the university, the goal is to demonstrate the financial sustainability of a model of care known as "virtual dental home," in senior living communities. The model uses telehealth technology to link dental hygienists in the senior communities with dentists in offices and clinics. The hygienists provide preventative oral care to residents in the communities. This model is already being used at Kingsley Manor retirement community in old Hollywood, Calif.

The initiative is made possible by a three-year, $275,000 grant from the California Wellness Foundation to the university, a pioneer in the teledentistry field. The grant will support the work of two dental hygienists who received advanced training from Glassman’s team at Pacific. In addition to providing oral healthcare to the senior 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.

Also partnering in the project are the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing, which 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,” Paul Glassman, professor of dental practice at Pacific’s Dugoni School of Dentistry and director of the Pacific Center for Special Care said in a press release statement. "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.

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