Dental services – on the go

Kyle Isaacs is a dental hygienist who has taken her practice on the road, offering her dental services to patients who have difficulty getting to a clinic.

Kyle Isaacs and Lori Killen Aus are part of a growing breed of mobile dental care providers who actually pack up their dental tools and come to their patients — from the home to the hospital and even to senior care facilities.

Both are passionate about providing good dental care to patients who otherwise may not have access to it.

To provide such care, both hold an expanded-practice dental permit that allows them to clean teeth and perform minor dental procedures away from a dental office and without direct supervision by a dentist.

“My services are important especially for people who are unable to care for themselves or cannot go to a dental office,” says Isaacs, who runs Miles 2 Smiles LLC. “When they are unable to clean their own teeth and go to a dental office, not only do they have a higher incidence of cavities, periodontal disease and tooth loss, but also the chronic food and bacteria in their mouths can be aspirated into their lungs causing pneumonia. This is the number one reason residents of long term care facilities go to the hospital and die.”

Isaacs says these patients are also more likely to lose teeth, and often when they cannot care for themselves, the decay and gum disease occur at a faster rate.

“When these problems are happening in their mouths, they can have pain,” she says. “It can be more difficult to eat. They are likely to have nutritional issues that make them more likely to get sick. And their self-esteem and quality of life usually decline as well. Chronic poor oral health has also been shown to be a contributing factor with some other diseases such as Alzheimer’s, some cancers, heart disease and strokes.”

Isaacs hails from a family of dental professionals – her dad is a retired dentist, her mother is a retired dental hygienist, and her brother is a dentist working in Delaware.

“You might say it’s in my genes,” says Isaacs, a member of Altrusa of Corvallis, a volunteer service organization. “I always loved doing things with my hands, connecting with people, and helping others, so dental hygiene seemed to be a good fit.”

She worked in private dentistry in California and Alaska before coming to Oregon four and a half years ago. A mother of two daughters and two stepsons, she helps her husband with their small organic farm when not providing dental services.

“Working in a private practice was great,” says Isaacs, who has worked in dentistry more than three decades. “I loved building relationships with my patients and coworkers. We were all like family. After a while, I kept thinking about all the people who were unable to access dental care for many reasons — money, mobility issues, dementia and other special needs.”

To answer the need, Isaacs took to the road. She sees patients in Marion, Benton, Linn and Lane counties. She serves as an on-call dental hygienist for Benton County, and is part of a team that visits elementary and middle schools in Linn and Benton counties. Isaacs also gives talks to dental health professionals and teaches continuing education courses.

“I am passionate about taking care of people who are dependent and cannot access a dental office,” she says. “I am also passionate about helping the public and other healthcare providers understand the importance of good oral health on overall health and quality of life.”

In 2009, following her master’s degree and a tour in South Africa, Killen Aus realized poverty is a major factor in dental care. Within months of returning from South Africa, she created her own mobile dental hygiene business, Oral Health for Life LLC.

Since observing poverty in a foreign country, Killen Aus realized “there are those around me with the same needs. I purchased mobile equipment and supplies to serve those who are unable to access oral health care.”

She actually began her career in 1980, and got her expanded-practice permit in 2001.

Becoming a provider for Exceptional Needs Dental Services, where Isaacs also gets referrals, Killen Aus connected with care facilities throughout Lincoln, Columbia, Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington, Yamhill and Marion counties.

In 2012, she began practices inside two area facilities: Friendsview in Newberg, and Capital Manor in Salem.

“I get cards and letters of gratitude from the residents’ spouses or family members,” she says. “I enjoy wonderful working relationships with collaborating dentists who offer restorative treatment when needed. Prevention of oral disease is so paramount to overall wellness.”

A large part of her practice is to the under-served, Killen Aus says.

“Many seniors — around 66 percent — do not have dental insurance, some living in HUD facilities, some in their homes or adult care homes,” she says. “I offer very low-cost preventative care.”

A volunteer adjunct professor for several dental hygiene programs, she takes dental hygiene students to free clinic sites, a win/win for all.

“The students gain valuable experience outside of their regular learning environment,” she says, “and the people who are served gain the benefits of the much-needed oral health services at no cost.”

Both Killen Aus and Isaacs are honing their skills to work with the growing clientele of memory-impaired patients. They hold hands with and sing to their patients during procedures, lessening the stress associated with the care.

“Some are at the end of their life, and though they are unable to communicate with words,” Killen Aus says, “they have a way of displaying gratitude for their clean and fresh mouth.”

Isaacs finds spending quality time with her patients rewarding, no matter the location. She attends several health fairs each year and volunteers when (Mission of Mercy) is taking place.

“I would love to help organize some oral cancer screening days,” Isaacs says. “I love giving back and utilizing my skills to help others, so I’m always open to finding new events.”

They both agree that despite the challenges — clerical tasks, toting equipment, traveling, or fending off back aches from leaning over a bed — the work is rewarding.

“Some nights I go to bed very tired and sore,” Killen Aus says, “but the rewards of this work allow me to get out of bed the next morning with renewed energy and a smile.”

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