Oral health for Houston seniors: a mission we can all support
Photo by ASphotofamily

You won’t find many people who love going to the dentist. But we all know it’s important to keep our teeth healthy. Without good dental care, our overall health is at risk, especially for seniors.

Article written by Karen Millender and Alicia Johnston

CenterWell Senior Primary Care applauds everyone who supports the cause of better oral health, particularly the community groups municipalities, and educational institutions who came together earlier this year to bring the Texas Mission of Mercy (TMOM) mobile dental clinic to Houston.

Dr. Karen Millender

The City of Houston Complete Communities, University of Houston Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine and United Methodist churches in Boynton Chapel, Trinity, Trinity East and Riverside were among the supporters. In collaboration with local teams from CenterWell Senior Primary Care and Humana, these valued community partners contributed to TMOM’s mobile dental clinic to deliver more than 2,500 oral health services to residents of Houston’s Third Ward, where lack of resources and access to quality dental care are prevalent.

This dental clinic travels the state organizing two-day events in which volunteer providers perform extractions, fillings and cleanings to relieve pain and prevent more serious health complications. Here in Houston, the clinic made a tremendous impact in the community, providing 2,763 free treatments worth nearly $375,000 to 508 residents. 

Alicia Johnston

For seniors especially, optimal oral health is an essential part of long-term wellness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Older Americans with the poorest oral health tend to be those who are economically disadvantaged, lack insurance, and are members of racial and ethnic minorities.”

Being disabled, homebound or institutionalized (e.g., living in a nursing home) also increases one’s risk of poor oral health, and Medicare doesn’t cover routine dental care. Unfortunately, people over 65 – many of whom are on fixed incomes – suffer higher rates of tooth decay, gum disease, tooth loss and oral cancer.

Here in Houston, senior dental hygiene is a real public health concern. According to the Houston State of Health public health data portal, about 25% of locals residents over age 60 no longer have any natural teeth. Missing teeth can impact a person’s diet, nutrition and self-confidence, and seniors living in poverty are twice as likely to have lost their teeth. The most recent data shows that 11.2% of Houstonians 65 to 74 live below the poverty line. For those 75 and older, it’s 12.6%.

Good oral health makes a positive impact both physically and emotionally by preventing tooth decay, tooth loss and other health-related complications, as well as boosting one’s sense of self-esteem. That’s why CenterWell and Humana wholeheartedly support the work of the Texas Mission of Mercy. Oral health impacts overall health, and we want to see Houston seniors happy, healthy and smiling.

To learn more about upcoming TMOM initiatives and get involved, visit tdasmiles.org.

Dr. Karen Millender is a physician with CenterWell Senior Primary Care. Alicia Johnston is a population health strategy lead with Humana.