On a not-infrequent basis, when Michelle Noblet-Vacha’s phone rings, it’s Doris Fix on the other end. “When are you comin’ in, Michelle?” she asks. “I need my teeth cleaned!”
Doris Fix, 83, is one of many elderly clients of Senior Mobile Dental, a nonprofit founded by Noblet-Vacha several years ago. Its mission: to bring quality oral hygiene care to vulnerable elderly patients.
Originally from Arizona, Noblet-Vacha relocated to Colorado Springs. While working in dentistry for over 24 years, she saw how difficult it was for seniors to receive professional care.
“It’s shocking,” she says. “Here are people who, for years, have taken care of their teeth, and as a result they still have them. But they can’t get anyone to come to them to help take care of their teeth. Oral diseases are a huge factor in the overall decline in health of many of our elderly people.”
Her move to Colorado Springs opened doors for her to access this population. “It was the first state to allow hygienists to go outside of a dental practice to do work,” she says. So, after several more years of studying the problem and working on a solution, she launched Senior Mobile Dental.
Building her nonprofit hasn’t been easy. She faces many obstacles. The common public perception is that someone in their late stages of life has dentures. Yet in fact it’s more common to find elderly with most of their teeth — but in a huge state of disease and neglect.
Getting paid for their work is tough, too, because Medicaid doesn’t cover preventative oral care for people over the age of 18. Many elderly patients lost dental insurance once they retired, and are on a fixed income. When seeking foundation support to care for the elderly, Noblet-Vacha has found that most foundation support is dedicated to children’s programs, such as sealant and fluorides. That leaves out the elderly, who have no state or financial coverage.
But Noblet-Vacha, who has worked hard to fundraise through individual donations and grants, isn’t giving up. “We need more support; we’re only reaching a tiny portion of the vulnerable elderly who are suffering needlessly because of a lack of oral hygiene treatment. It simply isn’t right that these people have no oral care available to them.”