Social Workers Collaborate to Improve Patient Care in Dentistry

Guest post by Valerie Fatta & Julie Rockmaker

Many older adults face challenges getting dental care – either because it’s too expensive, or because they don’t have a reliable way to get to a dental office. They also may have other health problems that make it difficult to get the dental care they need.

Social workers can play a vital role in helping seniors get access to that care by helping remove barriers and give seniors the resources, information, and tools they need to make informed decisions about their care. By working with social workers, older adults can learn about their care options and have more control over oral health decisions.

Social workers also help families who have loved ones in nursing homes. They ensure that at the end of the day, the patient is getting the best care. This relationship between the family, the nursing home, and the patient is extremely important.

What do Social Workers do?

Social workers have worked with medical professionals since the early 1900s. As part of their job, they maintain and form relationships with community agencies that provide a network of support and information for seniors and their caregivers. Social workers can be found in hospitals, nursing homes, and health clinics, as well as some dental schools. They can also help with after care once the appointment is over.

Dentistry & Social Work in Action: The CARES Program

The University at Buffalo (UB) School of Dental Medicine created a social work program called the Counseling Advocacy Referral Education and Service (CARES) Program, serving thousands of individuals—including older adults—since the program first started. The CARES Program is a collaboration between the UB School of Dentistry and the School of Social Work, where social workers link patients with transportation, senior housing, and insurance options, including Medicaid.

During their appointments, some patients had shared stressful or traumatic events that had occurred both in and out of the dental chair, causing some discomfort or anxiety while receiving dental treatment. In response, the UB School of Social Work integrated new strategies that teach students how to provide trauma-informed service that is sensitive to the needs of patients.

The social workers of the CARES Program utilize the principles of trauma-informed care to obtain a deep understanding of the patients concerns, and to work collaboratively with the patient to find solutions to the anxiety they feel while at the dentist.

Programs, such as the CARES Program, promote good oral health in additional to good overall health and well-being.