by LIZ ALLEN, Staff Writer
Dental health involves a lot more than brushing and flossing but those two practices are good habits to adopt.
That advice was part of the educational message that AmeriHealth Caritas brought to Emmaus Ministries recently with its mobile wellness bus.
AmeriHealth Caritas, a managed Medicaid plan, is based in Harrisburg and donates annually to Emmaus Grove Garden, which grows vegetables for Emmaus Food Pantry and the Soup Kitchen.
But AmeriHealth Caritas staffers also make regular stops at Emmaus to reach out to members and non-members with advice on how to stay healthy.
For Erie people living in poverty, especially those who are homeless, healthy living is a big challenge. Taking care of your teeth is no exception. Securing an appointment to see a dentist can take months. Jaime McGuire, AmeriHealth’s community health educator, said a visitor to the wellness bus at an Erie community center told her it took more than six months to see a dentist.
But neglecting dental health has serious consequences, according to Renee Johnstonbaugh, AmeriHealth’s wellness center administrator for community outreach.
One in four adults over 30 have tooth decay; the same percentage of adults over 65 have gum disease, she said.
With poor oral health, an infection in your mouth could travel to your heart or brain, she said. “People with diabetes are a higher risk for gum disease,” she said. Diabetics also heal more slowly if they get a cut in their mouths.
Smoking, drinking and over-exposure to the sun increase the risk of oral cancer. In fact, smokers are four times as likely to suffer from gum disease, she said.
Conversely, pregnant women with good dental care are more likely to have a healthy baby. To keep teeth healthy, brush twice a day for two minutes, at a 45-degree angle, she said.
Toothbrushes should be replaced every six months and when you floss, “be generous and be gentle,” she said.
The wellness center doesn’t conduct dental exams but AmeriHealth staffers offered an easy-to-grasp visual presentation about oral health and risks. Each Emmaus visitor also got a new toothbrush.
The first woman who came to the bus said she wore dentures because all of her teeth had been pulled. But she still needed to brush, the AmeriHealth workers told her as they gave her a new toothbrush. She left the bus with a smile, but it was a sobering reminder about the urgent need to provide dental checkups and follow-up treatment to Erie’s needy.
Photo: Renee Johnstonbaugh (left) and Jaime McGuire of AmeriHealth Caritas Pennsylvania brought a mobile educational program on dental health to guests of Emmaus Food Pantry.