Two dental hygienists based on the Cape are helping South Coast residents maintain their smiles. Beginning this October, Teresa Simison and Andrea Read will be officially taking over for Holly Petruzzo, who recently retired from Visiting Dental Hygienist, a portable service that operated out of councils on aging in the region.
Previously, Simison and Read worked together at a private practice for about seven years and attended graduate school together, where they pursued degrees in dental hygiene with a concentration in public health from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. They later developed their portable practice, Mobile Dental Hygiene Services, which launched in early 2017.
Their Cape Cod-based practice visits councils on aging and long-term care facilities, and they can make at-home visits for homebound patients. The two also work with other age groups, in Head Start Programs, WIC Programs and elsewhere.
As Petruzzo began to plan her retirement, she reached out to Simison and Read to see if they wanted to expand their coverage area further into the South Coast. Simison said the two have spent the past year making that transition, meeting with Petruzzo’s former patients at South Coast councils on aging.
Their services include teeth cleaning, denture care, oral cancer screening and a periodontal exam, in which they inspect the health of a patient’s gums. Simison said the experience is similar to a cleaning you would expect at a regular appointment.
“We’re hygienists, and we’re providing the same service we would be providing in a dental office,” said Simison. “If you have needs beyond our scope of care, we try to set people up with local dentists.”
When you call to make an appointment, Mobile Dental Hygiene Services will conduct a brief medical history over the phone. There’s also a medical history form and consent form that will be filled out the day of the appointment. In addition to bringing your MassHealth card, if you have one, you should also bring a list of medications you’re taking. Coastline also provides funding to provide services for those not covered by MassHealth.
If you wear a partial or dentures, be sure to bring those to your appointment, because they have a machine that can clean them and they can see how they’re fitting in your mouth.
Simison pointed to a growing body of evidence suggesting a link between oral health and overall health. The chronic inflammation from gum disease may lead to other issues, such as cardiovascular problems or inflammation elsewhere in your body. Uncontrolled diabetes can also lead to gum disease.
“The mouth is the gateway to the body,” she said. “As we age, we’re more susceptible to systemic diseases that can be affected by poor oral health.”
While a professional cleaning is recommended every six months, many older Americans lose their dental insurance upon retirement, making routine dental care impossible due to the out-of-pocket costs. Simison said many of her patients fall into that category. Some will even opt to see their dentist once a year, and then seek the portable service in order to keep up with preventive care.
“A lot of people had dental insurance for years, but now that they’re retired, that insurance oftentimes goes away. There’s a group of people who don’t qualify for Medicaid, but they can’t afford dental work or dental insurance,” she said.
Maintaining regular appointments with a professional is important, she said, because you may be doing everything right, but miss something that could develop into an issue further down the road.