Dentist recognized for outreach, treatment of nursing home residents

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health and the author of "Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America." She can be reached at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Untreated oral disease can have a devastating impact upon frail elders.

Yet significant financial and physical barriers prevent many from getting the care they need. (See related tip sheet, “Getting dental care to elders in nursing homes.”)

The lack of dental services is particularly acute for many of the 1.4 million seniors living in nursing homes, placing them at increased risk for everything from pain and tooth loss to poor nutrition and serious, even fatal infections.

“Brushing teeth becomes a life or death thing for many patients,” dentist Gregory Folse, D.D.S., told AHCJ members who joined a recent webinar dedicated to exploring the challenges of getting care to vulnerable nursing home residents.

Folse, whose innovative mobile dental practice is dedicated to getting care to more than two dozen Louisiana nursing homes, spends his days addressing those challenges.

It turns out his efforts are deeply appreciated in his community of Lafayette, La. Folse was recently named Dentist of the Year by a local nonprofit.

Bill Decker, community editor of The Advertiser in Lafayette used the award as a peg to create a feature story in words and video about Folse and the people he serves.

“Folse goes to the patients who can’t come to him,” Decker explained in his piece, “Dentist on Road, Treats Elderly in Nursing Homes.” Decker joined Folse and dental assistant Abby Trahan as they cared for residents at the Maison de Lafayette nursing home. Afterward, Folse gave him a picture of the needs he sees on his rounds.

“I’ve found that most of my patients, as was the case this morning, have multiple differing diagnoses,” Folse noted. “Sometimes they have 15 or 20 different diseases. They may have 15 to 20 medications … you tie that many diseases and that number of drugs with an abscessed tooth and an infection that won’t go away, then you’ve got a problem for a nursing home patient.”

Medicare does not cover routine dental services and Medicaid benefits for adults are scant in many states.

“Folse receives a stipend from the nursing homes where he sees patients,” Decker explained in his story.

Even so, the dentist estimated that he gave away about $44,000 worth of care last year. Still, he works to provide them with the services they need.

“We make sure all these folks are taken care of, regardless of the funding we may have,” Folse told him.

A local social service information and referral service called 232-HELP, which works with Folse to organize care for the frail and needy patients named him Dentist of the Year.

Rae Logan, executive director of 232-HELP described Folse as “an amazing man.”

“His dental practice focuses on the elderly, and a good part of our clients are the elderly and those who are disabled and unable to get dental services any other way,” she told Decker. “If you live at the poverty level in Louisiana, you cannot afford to get your teeth cleaned. You’re unable to get your teeth pulled,” Logan said.

Tip sheet

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