Home » New Initiative Connects UTHealth Students and Retirees for Better Oral Health

New Initiative Connects UTHealth Students and Retirees for Better Oral Health

by Rhonda Whitmeyer

by Rhonda Whitmeyer, UTHealth School of Dentistry

A new working partnership between The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Dentistry and Holly Hall Retirement Community (HHRC) stands to benefit students and retirees alike.

Second-year dental and dental hygiene students now go to HHRC weekly to provide oral health assessments and instruction. Educational programs for residents and their families, caregivers and staff are also available. Patients needing specific dental treatments are referred to their personal dentists or to the School of Dentistry.

Because HHRC is only 10 minutes from the school, the center is convenient for students. “The fact that it’s close to us and has independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing just seemed like a great place offering all different segments of the population,” said John Valenza, DDS, dean of the School of Dentistry.

Associate Professor David Fray, DDS, Assistant Professor Maryam Tabrizi, DMD and Community Outreach Director Margo Melchor, RDH, EdD, co-chair the program, which was developed in collaboration with Professor Gary Frey, DDS, chair of the Department of General Practice and Dental Public Health; Associate Professor Deborah Franklin, DDS, MA; Associate Professor Shawn Adibi, DDS, MEd; Professor Donna Warren Morris, RDH, MEd, and Director of Dental Public Health Ana Neumann, DDS, PhD.

Melchor said the partnership will foster ongoing and inter-professional relationships as the facility’s health care team interacts with UTSD faculty and students.

As people live longer and retain more natural teeth, their dental care can be complicated by acute or chronic diseases. Dental care for older adults involves diagnosing, treating or preventing dental caries (tooth decay), periodontal (gum) diseases, as well as oral mucosal diseases, head and neck pain, salivary dysfunction and impaired chewing, tasting and swallowing.

Valenza said expanding community involvement with geriatric patients is part of the school’s strategic plan but the urgency of the need came to him in a more personal way when his widowed mother became a resident at a retirement center during the last years of her life.

“I struggled with keeping her oral health at an optimum level,” he said, “and if I struggled, think of anybody else.”
Diane Parmer, executive director of Holly Hall Retirement Community, said the initiative will help residents while also helping the school.

“We’re excited about our partnership with UTHealth School of Dentistry and the expansion of our affiliation agreement to include dental services,” she said. “Our residents feel blessed to have the students at work on the campus providing oral screenings and educational services. It’s a win-win situation for everyone: an increase in service to our residents to improve their overall health, and the ability to be a part of the training for dental students.”

UTHealth School of Dentistry at Houston Can Help

We can provide experts to speak on a variety of oral health topics. To schedule an educational presentation at your
facility or for your organization, please contact us at UTSD@uth.tmc.edu. We’re also available to answer questions about oral health concerns. For more information visit https://go.uth.edu/AgingTeeth.

The School of Dentistry is a resource for promoting oral health and overall wellness in the aging population. According to the U.S. Administration on Aging, the population of Americans older than 65 years is expected to double to about 71 million by 2040.

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