Promising Practices in Aging & Oral Health: Meet Lillian from Birmingham, Alabama

Meet Dr. Lillian Mitchell, Director of Geriatric Dentistry at the University of Alabama School of Dentistry and Director of Fair Haven Oral Health Center. In January 2010, the Fair Haven Oral Health Center was a makeshift dental clinic in a nursing home medical office.

Since then, under the leadership of Dr. Mitchell, it has expanded to 3 fully-equipped clinical operatories and a potential patient pool from several other community retirement and nursing home facilities and the community at large.

As a result of the collaboration between the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry, Fair Haven Retirement Community, community foundation and industry support, Fair Haven Oral Health Center is the only focused dental clinic in a nursing home and a retirement community in the entire state.

Within the clinic, Dr. Mitchell also stresses the importance of oral health care education among nursing home providers. The caregivers and leadership team at the retirement home must fully comprehend the components of good oral and overall health themselves in order to feel confident serving as first respondents when working with the residents. Therefore, alongside the clinic is a learning center to train caregivers, medical, and dental professionals to provide oral health care for older adults.  Dr. Mitchell, along with the UAB Geriatric Education Center, a HRSA funded entity, incorporates interprofessional training and dental care in order to provide the most holistic treatment. In September 2011, the Interprofessional Clinical Experience (ICE) began, where multiple disciplines (i.e. optometry, occupational therapy, nutrition, social work, medicine, geriatrics, pharmacy, etc.) meet weekly to interview patients and develop their care plans.

As a result of Dr. Mitchell’s efforts, support of the dental school and the Fair Haven corporate offices, the Fair Haven Oral Health Center continues to provide comprehensive care to a population that otherwise would not have received care. Administrators say that noticeable differences have been seen in a decrease in aspiration pneumonia and an improvement of the oral health status in this retirement community.