Dental Hygiene Program: Government provides health care for the elderly

By Sylvestre Phillip MBE

THE Ministry of Health, Welfare and Aged Affairs is currently piloting a dental hygiene program which aims to bring health care to the elderly in homes across Saint Lucia. And, as an administrator of St. Lucy’s Home and a trained adult educator, I help the program.

I would like such a program to be made available to the elderly, in all health centers in Saint Lucia.

About 60 years ago, people from all parts of Castries needed to come to the Castries Health Center for Dental Services. Even when wellness centers were built in the various communities of Saint Lucia, not all of them provided dental service to the communities.

I’ve been using it for 60 years because that’s as far back as I can remember; from the age of 10, having to leave Marchand and go to the Castries Health Center for dental services. Now you can well imagine the number of people who gathered at the health center for this service. There was an extremely long wait before service could be provided on any given day.

There was no special service for the elderly. Which meant they had to find their way like everyone else. And queuing too.

But things are now changing for the better. We now have dental health care provided by many other wellness centers around Saint Lucia.

But what is particularly heartwarming is the fact that the Government of Saint Lucia, through the Department of Health, Welfare and Senior Citizens Affairs, is ensuring that our seniors in Saint Lucia -Lucie is receiving appropriate health care or services.

It’s a true manifestation of ‘Put People First’.

A senior team from the dental unit of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Elderly Affairs has set up a dental hygiene team that travels from door to door to provide hygiene service dental, which includes cleaning teeth and gums, extractions and recommending medication if necessary.

Our elders are doing well! The ministry actually brings the service to our seniors. At St. Lucy’s Home, we actually had to take our residents to La Clery Wellness Center for this service. But it is no more. And I can tell you that the dental hygienist, her assistant and the chief dentist who provided support did a wonderful job. Something to delight all the inhabitants.

Even staff members at St. Lucy’s Home were able to access the service. Great work team!

It is absolutely essential that people take care of their gums and teeth.

Very few of us know how important good oral health is to our overall health. The mouth is the ultimate gateway into our body, so any bacteria from our mouth can travel to other parts of our body and expose us to other conditions and diseases. Some of these risks are: risk of heart disease and stroke; Risk of suffering from dementia, respiratory disorders; Risk of diabetes; Risk of cancer. Indeed, there are many other diseases and conditions that could arise if we have poor dental hygiene.

People who suffer from periodontal disease are twice as likely to be diagnosed with heart disease and narrowing of the arteries caused by plaque and bacteria that enter the body through the gums.

Now, if one has poor oral hygiene and it causes you to lose teeth, it could lead to potential memory loss that can lead to dementia. Some substances of an inflammatory nature can cause part of your brain to die. Yes indeed, die!

Again, if one is suffering from periodontal disease, bacteria have the potential to travel through your bloodstream and into your lungs where they can directly impact your respiratory system. This puts us at an increased risk of suffering from acute bronchitis or chronic pneumonia.

Indeed, research has shown that approximately 95% of people with diabetes also suffer from some form of periodontal disease or tooth loss.

Now someone with diabetes is more likely to get certain infections.

Many dentistry experts have indicated that people with periodontal disease are at risk of being diagnosed with cancer.

It turns out that men who suffer from gum disease are almost 50% more likely to be diagnosed with kidney cancer or pancreatic cancer. They are also 30% likely to be diagnosed with blood cancer. This is a great reason to practice good dental hygiene.

Knowing my men very well, they generally have a carefree attitude towards health care. I can reveal that my father passed away from cancer. I don’t remember him going to the doctor, except when he was already very close to returning to his ‘Maker’. I would really like to research the reasons why men generally do not go to see a doctor. When I do, I’ll let you know the result.

What I am happy about is that the Department of Health, Wellness and Seniors Affairs is ensuring that seniors receive proper dental hygiene care.

Soon, I expect the program to expand to include all schoolchildren in the different districts of Saint Lucia.


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