Philip Bendheim

War or Not, Yad Sarah’s Mobile Clinics Bring Oral Health to the Elderly and Disabled

Yad Sarah Mobile Dental Clinic Van and Volunteer - Courtesy of Yad Sarah
Yad Sarah Mobile Dental Clinic Van and Volunteer - Courtesy of Yad Sarah

For many elderly on a fixed income, paying for dental care – which is at best minimally subsidized by government or health funds – is a challenge. This is one reason why as many as a quarter of Israel’s elderly avoid the dentist, living with sometimes serious oral diseases, experts say. In addition, many elderly Israelis and those with disabilities aren’t receiving the dental care they need because traveling to the dentist can be a challenge. 

And those diseases are often indicative – and can even lead to – far more serious problems. Studies indicate that among individuals as young as 40, gingival inflammation (periodontitis) has “a significant relation as a risk factor” for coronary artery disease. Cardiovascular diseases are by far the most common cause of death worldwide for all ages, and the leading cause of death among the elderly. Besides, tooth and gum pain hurts – badly.

Of course, factors other than oral health contribute to overall health in everyone, including for the elderly and those with disabilities. But with proper dental care, at least some deaths – along with the suffering that those with oral diseases experience – can likely be prevented. And improving oral health is what Yad Sarah has undertaken to do with its Mobile Dental Unit, a traveling “dental clinic” that brings professionals and care to the homes of the elderly and others who can’t afford – or can’t get out – to the dentist. The clinic goes anywhere patients are, including to rural areas, and into high rise apartments. The care is either free or subsidized, depending on the patient’s financial situation.

The mobile unit provides all the services visitors to a dentist’s office would get, from X-rays to teeth cleaning to treating cavities and gum disease. The advanced X-ray units were donated by generous individuals and foundations. The X-rays are perhaps the units’ most important service, with the results usually available immediately, enabling a quick evaluation – and treatment – of a patient’s dental health. And the results of a checkup can be shared and evaluated with a patient’s doctors, who will be better able to understand their patient’s overall health, based on their oral health. 

When the current war started, the units were in Eilat and the Dead Sea hotels area, where they were able to treat dozens who were uprooted from their homes in southern Israel. The teams also continue to travel to areas of the country most affected by the war, from the border with Gaza to remote communities in the North, to treat those who are homebound or would otherwise find it difficult to travel for in-patient care. In recent months, Yad Sarah’s Mobile Dental Clinics have provided over 2,000 treatments to individuals around Israel. 

In one example, during the course of the war, one of the Clinic’s dentists, Dr. Maher Haddad, and coordinator, Iris Ben Shoshan, conducted nine urgent dental treatments in a matter of days for evacuees. The task “was not easy,” Dr. Haddad said, due to the difficult living conditions and the mental anguish of evacuees, especially the children. In one case, Dr. Haddad treated a six-year-old girl, Avital. She and her family had evacuated to Eilat from the hard-hit southern town of Netivot. In the unfamiliar surroundings, they’d experienced difficulty finding the care she needed for an urgent tooth extraction until Dr. Haddad arrived with Yad Sarah’s clinic on wheels and successfully treated her.   

In another instance, one of Yad Sarah’s dedicated volunteer drivers conducted 12 rides, enabling the Clinic’s teams to provide door-to-door dental care even amid rocket attacks. In one case, the volunteer recalls attending to an elderly Russian couple in Ashkelon who were distressed due to ongoing rocket fire. “When we arrived to give them urgent dental fillings, they were very worked up and we tried to calm their fears,” he said. “They were in excruciating pain and the treatment couldn’t have waited until the hostilities eased. Thankfully, everything turned out well.”

The mobile clinics are one of many services Yad Sarah undertakes to provide, including elder care, home health, medical equipment loans, support for victims of domestic violence, transportation for people with disabilities, emergency alerts, day rehabilitation, and more. Each year, Yad Sarah helps nearly every family in Israel with its wide array of services – and continues to do so now despite the ongoing security challenges both in the north and south. In fact, in light of the war, the organization has expanded its services, and set up new services to meet emergent or future needs. This includes setting up “oxygen stations” around the country that offer oxygen concentrators that can operate without electricity, as well as power generators that can supply up to 48 hours of energy, thus ensuring that those dependent on oxygen support can get it in the event that Israel’s power goes out due to an attack, either physical or cyber.  

We believe it is essential that everyone gets the care they need through every stage of life and at any time, including during events like war and pandemic. The mobile dental clinic, constantly making the rounds of the country and serving thousands of patients, is an important part of how we do this. As the figures about the connection between oral health and overall health show, even things that seem small, like going to the dentist, can have a big impact.

About the Author
Philip Bendheim is a dedicated second-generation volunteer in the Yad Sarah family. He is a director of Yad Sarah's International Board of Overseers and USA Friends of Yad Sarah
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