Osceola County’s mobile denture unit aims to put smiles on seniors' faces
Osceola County residents 55 and older will soon have a new low-cost and accessible way to get dental care and dentures if they need them.
A mobile clinic will bring smiles to their faces and improve their chances of a long and healthy life.
Doris Tessier, 70, of Buena Ventura Lakes, takes care of her 108-year-old mother-in-law. They're sitting together outside a community center near Kissimmee at a ribbon cutting for Osceola County's new mobile denture unit.
The Senior Smiles program begins providing services Tuesday and will travel throughout the county.
Tessier, who is missing her two front teeth, hopes to be a patient.
"I have a loose tooth and I have the missing teeth," Tessier said. "And they had wanted to do the implants. But there's no way ... I could afford implants."
Tessier relies on Social Security and hasn't been able to afford dental care in the eight years or so since she stopped working, she said. "My mortgage went up $200 because of homeowners insurance. My car insurance went up $150 a month. Cable is up. Even Medicare went up. Everything's gone up ... and to try to afford dental care -- that's on the bottom of my list because you need to eat."
This new dental-office-on-wheels could be life changing.
"I'll be able to smile again," she said. "And chew from the front of my mouth."
District 2 County Commissioner Viviana Janer is the political force behind the mobile unit, and $200,000 has been set aside to help residents in her district receive dentures. The funds could help almost 200 residents get dentures.
Osceola Community Health Services will operate the unit. OCHS already provides low-cost -- and, in some cases, free -- dental care. This 45-foot-long trailer was built with a $300,000 grant from the county. It will, for the first time, offer dentures for older residents.
Janer says she hears over and over again from seniors that they need those services, which generally aren’t covered by Medicare.
"They might have a partial that broke, they can't even get it fixed," Janer said. "They might need teeth. And this is a big issue within the senior community."
Insurance will be billed when it's available, according to an email from OCHS. And for those outside District 2 who are uninsured or underinsured, "a denture will be provided at cost, and those who are eligible will be offered a payment plan."
Osceola County has fewer than 18 dentists for every 100-thousand residents, according to Florida’s most recent data. Statewide that number is 59 dentists per 100-thousand people.
Transportation is also a problem, Janer said. "[T]hat's why it was so important for this new unit to be mobile. So it could go into the neighborhoods where the seniors are, and they could have access to it."
Dental health care is important for the overall health of seniors. There's the matter of nutrition -- bad teeth make it hard to enjoy fresh fruits, for instance. And studies show that poor oral health is tied to higher rates of heart disease and stroke. Researchers are also exploring why seniors with poor dental health are more likely to have dementia.
Dr. David Ferro is the chief dental officer at OCHS. He says the mobile unit is specially built with seniors in mind.
"We have everything here that we can do basic dentistry and especially … denture procedures," he said.
The dentist chairs in two separate offices are designed for easy access. The back of the unit has a lift for patients using walkers or wheelchairs.
Sixty-year-old Josue Rivera says he’s been praying for help with his teeth. Now he's in line to be the first patient.
"I'm the very first one to receive the opportunity to have a great smile again," he said, adding that it's been a long time since he smiled showing his teeth.
Rivera thinks it might be good for his love life, too.
He said, "It's hard to find a woman with a smile like this."
Video: Josue Rivera discusses his struggles getting access to dental care.
Osceola County residents can find the mobile unit’s travel schedule and learn how to make an appointment at seniorsmilesosceola.com.