Paul Glassman

Paul Glassman DDS, MA, MBA, professor of dental practice, school of dentistry at a press conference announcing the Virtual Dental Home demonstration project.

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Demonstrating a New Model for Dental Care

Jennifer LanghamJun 6, 2012

The elderly, disabled and low income populations are receiving critically needed dental care thanks to technology and a first-of-its-kind project led by Pacific Center for Special Care Director Paul Glassman. 

Glassman's groundbreaking Virtual Dental Home (VDH) project is demonstrating a model for how to provide essential-and cost effective-service to those who may have otherwise gone without the care of a dentist. The project not only benefits patients from underserved communities, it also has the potential to change healthcare policy.

Glassman, a professor in the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, has a passion for the innovative model he helped develop with the VDH. And his enthusiasm has been shared: In the last few months alone, the Pacific Center for Special Care, has received more than $3 million in grants, enabling an expansion of Glassman's project. 

Hygenist taking photos to upload to a dentist

The VDH program uses portable imaging devices and other technologies to allow hygienists and other health professionals to upload electronic photos and x-rays. From there, they can consult with a dentist working off-site to provide diagnostic and preventive services.

Glassman and colleagues spent more than three years developing the VDH before the first patient was seen. Now there are nine sites at which the demonstration project is in place.

Using technologies such as emailing patient x-rays is not unusual, but the comprehensive care that VDH is able to provide- allowing dentists to be involved remotely with health personnel who are in the community- is unique.  

"There aren't any other programs in the country like this." 

Virtual Dental Home Video

Watch a video highlighting the Virtual Dental Home and how it is benefiting local schools and the community more

Improving Health for the Underserved

Patient during examination

Glassman says that the severe dental neglect often seen in these underserved communities can result in missed school or work, hospitalization and, occasionally, death. For some of the patients, the most important technology they may encounter is a toothbrush.

"One boy came from a large, very poor family, and he came in thinking that his mouth was in really bad shape," says Glassman, referring to a project site at a San Diego school. "But he simply had food buildup and calcified bacteria from not brushing." The hygienist was able to clean his teeth and provide the child with his first toothbrush.

In addition to providing care and treatment, VDH is helping patients develop a more positive outlook about visiting the dentist. 

"A child comes into a room with friendly posters and is greeted by a dental hygienist who is very warm and receptive, and they start to associate some positives with dentistry," says Terry Press-Dawson, a school counselor at Harmon Johnson Elementary in Sacramento where the VDH project operates on-site twice a week. 

"Because of the coordination of services between Pacific's program and the wonderful local dentist, there have been several children at the school with severe dental pain who have been seen on an emergency basis and had care that they couldn't have gotten otherwise."
Terry Press-Dawson
School Counselor, Harmon Johnson Elementary

Changing Healthcare Policy

Glassman believes the value of this approach will be seen over time. The VDH project challenges the traditional reimbursement system for dentistry, which is based on surgical interventions, and instead emphasizes prevention, use of medications and education.

"This is a better way of using our scarce resources," he says. "In time we can have dental care reimbursement systems that reflect that."

Glassman is continuing to collect data about the number of people served, the kind of procedures they're getting and the health outcomes, as well as the financial implications of the project. So far, the news is very good.

"A very preliminary analysis shows we can deliver dental services at half the cost than is currently being paid in the California Medicaid system."

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