Smiles for Seniors: Ottauquechee Health Foundation Offers Free Oral Health Screenings and Fluoride Varnish for Older Adults

Sandy Joslin,Dental Hygienist, with Smiles For Seniors ParticipantSmiles for Seniors: Ottauquechee Health Foundation Offers Free Oral Health Screenings and

Fluoride Varnish for Older Adults

By Dorothy Bergin, New England Rural Health Round Table

Sherry Thornburg, Executive Director, Ottauquechee Health Foundation, Woodstock, VT has an exciting new dental program underway that sends a licensed dental hygienist TO where the people are – in this case, the Bugbee Senior Center in White River Junction, VT and the Thompson Senior Center in Woodstock, VT. The focus is on prevention and early identification of needs, all with the aim of catching seniors’ oral health problems before they escalate to the level of an emergency room visit.

The program- open to Upper Valley residents age 65 and older- is made possible with funding from the Ottauquechee Health Foundation in partnership with the Vermont Oral Health Coalition, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Community Health, and Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital Community Health.  Dr. Mark Knott, DDS, is the supervising dentist for this project.

Sherry and colleagues from Dartmouth -Hitchcock, the Vermont Oral Health Coalition and Alice Peck Day Community Health brainstormed the idea of a “preventative” model of care for older adults. Needs assessments clearly show the gap in access to oral health care.  So, the reasoning was to develop a program that makes it easy for older adults to participate.

In the first weeks of the program, alternating between the White River Junction and Woodstock centers, 17 seniors participated. The hygienist offers a dry brushing, fluoride varnish, and screening for oral cancer. A relationship of trust is established and if problems are identified that require a visit to the dentist or to a dental clinic, the hygienist can coordinate the visits.

Older adults with dentures are also welcome to take part in the pilot program. Again, the hygienist can assess the condition of the dentures – do they fit properly so the person is able to enjoy a balanced diet? Many seniors suffer from poor nutrition precisely because of ill-fitting dentures.

Sherry pointed out that Medicaid patients in Vermont are eligible for $510/per year in dental coverage, a benefit she says many people are not aware of.  New Hampshire has limited Medicaid benefits and Medicare does not cover any dental expenses.

For more information, or to schedule an appointment, contact the Ottauquechee Health Foundation

at 802-457-4188 or


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