For Dr. Monica Chana, assistant professor at The Dental College of Georgia, the association she formed with the residents of the Georgia War Veterans Nursing Home (GWVNH) that began when she was a student continues today.
“It’s a great source of pride for me,” she says. “I sometimes get emotional talking about it.”
The relationship between the two institutions began with a student service group called Dentists for Della. Named after the late Dr. Victor Della-Giustina, a founding faculty member of the dental college, the group of student volunteers addressed the basic oral care needs of the residents at the 192-bed skilled nursing care facility. In 2013, it became a required rotation.
Chana was a member of the first class to participate in the geriatrics treatment rotation. She continued to remain involved when she returned to work at the school in 2015 and took over the program in March 2019.
“In the first year, the students get an introduction,” she says. “It’s actually their first patient interaction, and it’s pretty basic — they go over and clean teeth and dentures. Then, I open it up the next semester for volunteers, and they can earn service credit their second and third years.”
In the fourth year, the students go over and do dental work as part of a rotation.
Students are able to work out of two rooms at the nursing home because of the portable dental units that were purchased specifically for the program — one by GWVNH and one from a Health Resources and Services Administration grant obtained by the school. If the students need to do a deeper cleaning, they’ll do it at the resident’s bedside.
“When I take them over, we’ll also go through the patient’s medical records so they realize what goes into caring for the elderly; we review conditions the patient has, medications the patient is on, what social services are involved and what occupational, physical or speech therapies the patient might be receiving,” Chana says. “They get a well-rounded experience.”
And while students might be apprehensive before they go, according to Chana, they come away with more confidence as well as a greater understanding of the overall health care process.
“During my rotation at the Georgia War Veterans Nursing Home, I had the wonderful opportunity of caring for disabled veterans,” says Amara Altman, class of 2020. “I was able to learn how to handle medically disabled patients and provide them with enhancements in oral health care. My time at the nursing home will always hold dear to my heart, and I would love to return in the future.”