Bulletin of Dental Education

Grant Promotes Oral Health Care Among Older Adults

 Permanent link   All Posts

A.T. Still University Missouri School of Dentistry & Oral Health (ATSU-MOSDOH) recently received a significant grant to provide direct oral health care to older adults at the St. Louis Dental Center, an innovative partnership between ATSU-MOSDOH and Affinia Healthcare. The grant was uniquely given to a clinic that is a federally qualified health center with a mission to serve underserved and vulnerable populations.

St. Louis Dental Center patient
Alawia Farag, Grant Manager Jane
Clark and ATSU-MOSDOH D4
student dentist Shayna Vercruysse.
Courtesy of ATSU MOSDOH

ATSU-MOSDOH was awarded the three-year grant totaling $875,000 to deliver dental services to residents of the city of St. Louis who are over age 60 and living independently at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.

The project, “Improving quality of life: Oral care for St. Louis older Adults (OCOA),” is being funded through a designated grant agency (not the city government) that manages and distributes tax-levy dollars to entities who provide senior services to residents within the city limits. 

“We understand that good oral health is a major contributor to an older adult’s overall health and quality of life, and we recognize that with no dental insurance and limited financial resources, dental care ranks well below the need for food and shelter,” St. Louis City Fund Manager Jamie Opsal, M.P.H., explains. 

The primary project goal is to improve functional oral health and well-being for senior citizens, through these specific objectives:

  • Provide education programs to reach 200 to 250 people per year.
  • Provide dental, oral cancer and tobacco use screenings for 150 to 200 participants per year who are also in the education programs.
  • Provide comprehensive dental care to restore functional dentition and form to 80 to 100 new patients in year one, increasing by 126 to 130 new patients annually to serve about 330 older adults in year three.
  • Assist patient navigation to improve patient success, through appointment reminders, transportation access and other needs.
  • Provide regular oral maintenance/preventive care for the duration of the grant for all participants who receive dental treatment.

“The OCOA project ideally aligns with our expansion of ongoing community outreach efforts to provide dental education and care to independent-living older adults in the St. Louis region,” says Patricia Inks, M.S., RDH, ATSU-MOSDOH Director of Dentistry in the Community and Integrated Community Service Partnerships. “Through our unique partnership with a community health provider, Affinia Healthcare, we become a dental home for many city residents who have limited access to care.”

Patients will be surveyed throughout the term of the grant to assess the impact of their experiences, from level of oral health knowledge achieved to improved perception of quality of life and improved patient outcomes through maintenance and preventive care. An established model, RE-AIM, was used to develop and model the three-year grant project. In addition, a strong formative and summative evaluation component is in place.

“By administering self-assessment surveys, we hope to capture participants’ perceptions of their medical and oral health well-being and functionality, as well as health metrics at numerous points in time, thus allowing us to measure outcomes over the three-year period,” says Joan M. Davis, Ph.D., Professor and Director of Research, Special Projects and Initiatives.

“There is limited clinical data delineating the value of functional dentition and older adults’ ability to eat healthy food, support emotional well-being and support the ability to remain in their community. We hope our data will enhance the dialogue and efforts to expand insurance for older adults once they retire,” Dr. Davis adds.

Dr. Davis and Ms. Inks are Co-directors of the OCOA project and report that in the first four months, OCOA provided dental education and screenings to 63 people, with 59 becoming active patients. Treatment plans to date include periodontal scaling, restorations, extractions, alveoloplasty and removable prosthetics. 

One patient, “Rita” Darlene Mertzluft, came to the St. Louis Dental Center with multiple medical issues that contributed to her teeth breaking down. She simply did not have the finances to address the problem, and reports, “I love this grant. I just want to get my smile back!”  

Another patient, Alawia Farag, says, “This is excellent! I got information at the workshop that helps me understand oral health, and my student dentist is very good.”

The OCOA team also includes a program manager and outreach hygienist, as well as volunteer third- and fourth-year dental students. Select faculty and staff serve on an internal advisory board, and an external advisory board includes two OCOA patients and members from other St. Louis community organizations serving seniors.

“We are truly thrilled and honored to have this opportunity to ensure that this underserved population receives high-quality dental care,” Ms. Inks says. “We look forward to reporting on our outcomes in perceived quality of life, dental health, and overall health in the near future.”

Courtesy of Joan M. Davis, Ph.D., Professor and Director of Research, Special Projects and Initiatives, and Patricia Inks, M.S., RDH, Director of Dentistry in the Community and Integrated Community Service Partnerships at A.T. Still University Missouri School of Dentistry & Oral Health.

Published on January 13, 2021

Duggan ad 2013