Dental care in seniors might often be overlooked or postponed, but its significance goes far beyond just maintaining a bright smile. Neglecting proper dental care can have profound health implications, impacting both physical and mental well-being.
Participants in Gary and Mary West PACE have access to dental services included as a benefit of their enrollment in the program at no added cost.
Understanding the impact of dental care on overall health is crucial, and West PACE is dedicated to providing patient-centered care that recognizes these connections and ensures optimal dental health for North San Diego County seniors.
What are the health implications of dental care (or lack thereof)?
West PACE Medical Director Dr. Ross Colt compares the importance of paying attention to dental care to monitoring and maintaining a vehicle’s tires. “You might be able to ignore your tires for a period of time, and initially, there might not be any problems,” said Dr. Colt. “That is until you have the sudden unexpected blow-out and you crash your car.”
Like vehicle maintenance, dental care is easy to put off or even dismiss when there isn’t an urgent issue. But a lack of regular proper dental care can contribute to decreased food intake, poor nutrition, and weight loss. These issues can in turn lead to cavities, tooth loss, gingivitis, and periodontitis.
“At West PACE, our goal is to provide patient-centered care that aligns with our participant’s goals of care,” said Dr. Colt. “Many of our participants may not want extensive dental work. Instead, their focus is more on quality of life, so our goal is to address any dental pain and ensure their dental health is maximized to allow them to chew their food enough to facilitate good nutrition and maintain a healthy weight.”
How dental care impacts mental health
Perhaps even more important is the effect that dental health can have on a senior’s mental health. Seniors who are missing multiple teeth or who have broken or decayed teeth may become self-conscious about their smiles. This can take away a critical tool for communicating with other human beings, which can impact mental well-being, often leading to worsening depression, anxiety, and isolation.
Dr. Colt shared the story of a West PACE participant who, upon enrolling in the program, presented serious dental concerns. With only a few teeth remaining, he could only consume liquids or soft foods, and he rarely smiled. His situation seemed to deter him from engaging and interacting with others. Also, because he had a hard time getting adequate nutrition, he was quite thin.
“After performing a comprehensive dental assessment over a period of several months, our dental team removed some of the damaged teeth and provided him with well-fitting dentures. The transformation was really incredible,” said Dr. Colt. Over the next few months, the participant was able to eat a normal diet and, as a result, return to a healthy weight.
“Even more impressive was that it seemed like after that intervention he was constantly beaming and smiling at everyone around him,” Dr. Colt continued. “I think it really gave him the courage and self-confidence to be much more involved in positive relationships with the people around him.”
How can West PACE participants get dental care?
West PACE works with several dental service providers in North San Diego County to provide high-quality dental care to program participants at no added cost. Oral health is evaluated during a PACE participant’s initial assessment and is monitored on an ongoing basis. As acute dental situations occur, these needs can be shared with the West PACE clinical team for treatment. Then, West PACE will coordinate all visits and dental treatments with providers such as TrueCare dental to ensure timely access and treatment.
West PACE provides patient-centered care focused on treating the whole person. Access to excellent dental health continues to be a critical piece of this holistic care plan. Have questions about receiving dental care through West PACE? Our team is ready to help. Reach us at 760-280-2230 or send us an email.