The AHCH Dental Program is Essential
October is National Oral Hygiene Month
In the midst of a global pandemic, the AHCH Dental Program came together in extraordinary ways.
Together, they are thriving and stronger than ever as an essential oral health care provider to people
experiencing homelessness. AHCH is grateful for all of your efforts to maintain these essential services
during these unprecedented challenges.
Thank you for all that you do.
The consequences of COVID-19 for people experiencing homelessness have been devastating. Managing good oral health practices during the current public health crisis among unsheltered homeless populations requires a critical rethinking of how to provide integrated quality dental care. AHCH Dental Director Nadia Fazel, MPH developed a screening tool which the medical providers use to assess every client for any immediate oral or dental needs.
This tool has streamlined the integrated health care collaboration between AHCH health professionals to provide complete treatment to patients which improves a person’s overall wellbeing. Nadia is also a representative on a response team to provide training and guidance to peers, as well as to clarify internal measures and offer training across AHCH departments. In fact, all AHCH Clinical Leadership roles serve as health care subject matter experts and support shelters, social service providers, and Continuum of Care (CoC) across Albuquerque and some places in New Mexico.
AHCH recognizes that people experiencing homelessness have unique barriers to oral health. Our goals are to better understand the state of oral health among individuals experiencing homelessness and ensure healthy outcomes. AHCH implements service delivery models that reduce and eliminate barriers to accessing oral health services, such as integration into primary care. The AHCH Dental Program helps people experiencing homelessness address chronic and acute pain, improve nutrition, enhance self-esteem, and identify and secure assistance for other health problems identified through the dental clinic threshold. Dental care is central to ending homelessness. Without it, people without homes face tremendous barriers to employment, reducing substance use, finding housing, and/or reintegrating into community especially with safe distancing guidelines related to the pandemic.
Oral health involves more than healthy teeth and gums. Dental services are critical to identifying, treating, and addressing general and systemic health issues. For people without homes and without consistent coverage or ability to pay for care, dental programs are among the most limited in availability across the country. The National Network for Oral Health Access authored a fact sheet that addressed the relationship between periodontal gum disease. The fact sheet states: “Persons with unstable housing have higher rates of comorbidities including increased rates of chronic disease such as diabetes and hypertension, substance use, and alcohol use. These comorbidities alongside multiple prescriptions, weakened immune systems, and food insecurity underscore causes that lead to and are a result of poor oral health.” In short, life on the streets and lack of health care access leads to deteriorating oral health. In addition to problems related to poor hygiene or infection, the AHCH dental staff see high rates of dental problems associated with trauma.
Diabetes and periodontal gum disease are examples of diseases that are especially prevalent among people experiencing homelessness due to barriers in accessing health care services and prevention according to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council. AHCH Dental Hygienist Nutan Patel coordinates oral health outreaches during National Dental Hygiene Month, which is in October.
Nutan’s outreaches raise awareness of daily practice habits that promote healthy teeth and gums, set up appointments for oral care, answer questions, distribute oral hygiene kits, and to determine the oral health impacts and general quality of life among our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness. Our work is made possible by federal, state, and local funding sources including foundations and corporate sources and many caring and giving individuals. Thank you to the City of Albuquerque and Delta Dental, the nation’s leading provider of dental insurance. Finally, thank you to our loyal individual donors for making our work possible.
For more information, call AHCH at 505-338-8038.