Dental hygiene students attend long-term care needs

(Edmonton) For the first time, third-year dental hygiene students are going to long-term care facilities to inspect the teeth of residents who don’t often receive oral health treatment.

In an effort to expand the experiences of students, Sharon Compton and Sandy Cobban, professors in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry at the University of Alberta, have developed a new practicum. The new program sends third-year dental hygiene students to two long-term care facilities in Edmonton—Jasper Place Continuing Care Centre and St. Joseph’s Auxiliary Hospital—every Tuesday to do oral assessments on the residents.

“If the students aren’t exposed to this kind of work, I would propose they’d be much less likely to take it upon themselves to get involved in this kind of care,” said Compton. “We give our students a tonne of experience in the regular practice model; however, there are other areas where they could enhance their dental hygiene practice.

“One of those areas is in long-term care facilities.”

Assessments on residents in long-term care facilities are an important practice. Within this population group many of the residents have early dementia and, thus, can often have a hard time communicating the pain in their mouth, which can cause problems, including not eating properly.

“In being able to perform a routine assessment we’re able to identify problems either before they get to the point that the person is in pain, or identify the people that are in pain, who haven’t been assessed yet,” said Compton.

It’s also important that the residents of long-term care facilities be assessed, says Compton, because poor oral health can lead to a higher risk of pneumonia or heart disease.

For now they cannot do treatment at the facilities because of logistical issues, but after identifying problems in these residents, students can then learn something very important.

“What we are hoping to do is to help to then negotiate, facilitate and advocate for the person to get the care done,” said Compton.

Forty seven students are in the program, eight students are at the facilities every Tuesday through the semester. Kim Schowler is one of those students, who has enjoyed the opportunity.

“It’s been a really good experience because this is an opportunity you wouldn’t normally get,” said Schowler. “It’s nice to come in to long-term care facilities and even talk to patients who maybe have dementia and can no longer do the oral health care themselves.

“Or maybe they need some tips and tricks on how to do it. Even just educating the caregivers here and letting them know how they can help the residents is great.”

The hope is that this practicum will continue past this first year and will expand to a number of continuing care facilities in Edmonton. Compton has already had a lot of interest.

“I’ve had five facilities already indicate that they would like dental hygiene students to come and provide oral health assessments and education with their residents,” said Compton, who also hopes they can expand to doing treatment in the coming years.