The mission of the Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center is to provide affordable, high-quality oral healthcare with comprehensive education, clinical, and wellness services for seniors in need, enabling them to live healthy and productive lives.
With 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day, and 70% of those without dental insurance, deficits in senior oral health have reached crisis proportions. The problem is more severe among impoverished seniors, who lack access to care due to high costs and limited providers accepting Denti-Cal. The Senior Dental Center is striving to change this.
As a practicing dentist with a public health background, Dr. Becerra understood that action must be taken to improve seniors’ oral health and quality of life. A native of Bogota, Colombia, Dr. Becerra grew up surrounded by civil unrest. When she immigrated to San Diego in 2000, she brought to her adopted country a deep-seated empathy for vulnerable populations and a commitment to give back to her community. While volunteering alongside Mary West, at Serving Seniors’ Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center (GMWSWC), they were saddened to observe many seniors couldn’t eat the nutritious meals they were helping to serve.
The moment after she survived a single engine plane that almost crashed, Dr. Becerra decided to move from private practice and devote herself to transforming dental care for seniors, especially those most vulnerable. With the help of Serving Seniors, she surveyed seniors at the GMWSWC to understand their issues. Their biggest barriers to care, were high costs, a shortage of Denti-Cal participating dentists and lack of transportation. She knew she couldn’t do it alone so she sought the support and collaboration of like-minded individuals, a community-based organization, private and public agencies, and vulnerable seniors themselves. To address these barriers to care, the Senior Dental Center was launched in June of 2016 on the second floor of the GMWSWC with easy access for the 500 low-income seniors that visited daily.
Since then, Dr. Becerra and her dental team have worked tirelessly to treat vulnerable seniors in desperate need of oral healthcare, becoming strong advocates for “re-connecting the mouth to the rest of the body” and encouraging others to join their cause.
At the Senior Dental Center, our goal is to reconnect the mouth to the rest of the body and ensure that the whole person is considered to ensure we provide the right care at the right time. Our patients are screened, triaged, and their care is coordinated, all on-site.
We strive to enable seniors to properly care for and maintain their oral health through education and dental services that will impact the progression of disease before it becomes more painful, complicated, and costly. Working with the GMWSWC, we gather rigorous data and conduct research through the use of shared electronic information for each patient to understand the needs and challenges in providing holistic care to such a vulnerable population.
Our collaboration with the West Health Institute and West Health Policy Center aims to demonstrate the clinical and economic impacts that our innovative model can have on health outcomes and quality of life. Our research will help inform policy work designed to drive needs for reform and new legislation. These efforts will help us achieve our long-term goal of making our innovative, integrated model of care an example for replication in other places of our state and our nation, creating new value in our healthcare system and local communities.