Hendler directs Georgia’s only geriatric dental clinic

The Ina T. Allen Geriatric Dental Clinic on Emory’s Wesley Woods campus might be one of Emory Healthcare’s best-kept secrets, but Dr. Kevin Hendler (Emory Division of General Medicine and Geriatrics) wants to change that. As the director of the only geriatric dental clinic in Georgia, he is passionate about three things: providing specialized dental care to his patients, teaching Emory’s health care students about the dental needs of older adults, and explaining the importance of oral health to everyone.

Geriatric dentistry is not just providing dental care to older patients. Seniors who are in good health can continue to go to their family dentist. But seniors with cognitive issues, mobility issues, or multiple chronic health problems might find that it’s too difficult to see their family dentist, or that their dentist is no longer comfortable providing the care that they need. They would be welcome, however, at the Ina T. Allen Dental Clinic. Dr. Hendler and his staff create alternative treatment plans that restore a patient’s mouth to health: “We consider the whole person and their support environment, and decide what would be best for them.”  Longer appointments are available for patients who need extra time to get settled or to get through a procedure.  It’s very patient-centered and compassionate, reflecting the values at the core of Emory Healthcare’s mission.

In addition to dementia and other medical challenges, Dr. Hendler and his staff address common problems that affect older patients, like dry mouth or missing teeth. When Dr. Hendler is teaching, whether at Emory or through presentations at national conferences, he stresses that “the mouth is part of the body” and losing teeth is not a “normal” part of aging, although it was thought to be in the past. “If there is disease in your mouth,” says Hendler, “there is disease in your body. Dental disease is preventable and it’s not complicated – it’s brushing, flossing, and having your teeth cleaned and checked a few times per year.”

Dr. Hendler was named 2017’s Outstanding Dentist of the Year by the Georgia Dental Hygienists’ Association Board of Trustees, partially due to his tireless work toward getting the Georgia legislature to pass HB 154, which changed supervision rules for dental hygienists and the scope of practice for dental assistants. Dr. Hendler hopes that the new law is a step toward providing dental care for residents of nursing homes. Because Medicare doesn’t cover dental care and Medicaid does not provide routine dental care for adults in Georgia, patients in nursing homes often don’t have access to care. Poor oral hygiene can lead to broken, painful teeth and that can keep patients from eating and socializing, resulting in depression, malnutrition, and even more serious health issues. Dr. Hendler explains, “If you are in a nursing facility and no one is providing oral hygiene, bacteria in your mouth can increase. It’s pretty easy for that bacteria to travel to your lungs and lead to pneumonia, which might send you to the ICU. A lengthy hospital stay and more time in rehab because of de-conditioning – that’s a steep price, both financially and physically, to pay for not having access to dental care.”

Dr. Hendler hopes to one day have mobile equipment so that he can travel to patients with mobility issues. He welcomes new patients–both healthy older adults and those who need special care. “I enjoy the challenge of coming up with alternatives to ‘textbook dentistry,’ but I also enjoy working with older adults because they are appreciative and they aren’t in a hurry. Some of my favorite patients are those who can no longer been seen by their family dentist, and it means a lot to know that we can help them improve their oral health and even their quality of life.”

Dr. Hendler earned his DDS at the School of Dentistry, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and completed a clinical clerkship in geriatric dentistry at Long Island Jewish-Hillside Medical Center (Jewish Institute for Geriatric Care), New Hyde Park NY. He also completed a general practice residency at Strong Memorial Hospital and an Advanced Training Program in Geriatric Dentistry and Special Patient Care at Eastman Dental Center in Rochester, NY. He is president-elect for the American Board of Special Care Dentistry, and a past president of the American Society for Geriatric Dentistry and Special Care Dentistry Association. Dr. Hendler is a Diplomate of the American Board of Special Care Dentistry, a Fellow of the American Society for Geriatric Dentistry, and a Fellow of the International College of Dentists. He developed Emory’s geriatric oral health training program, Oral Health and General Health, and teaches medical residents, physician assistant students, and geriatric fellows.

To make an appointment at the Ina T. Allen Geriatric Dental Clinic, please call 404-728-6432.

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About the Author

Emory Department of Medicine
Emory Department of Medicine
The Emory University Department of Medicine, within the Emory University School of Medicine, is steeped in a rich tradition of excellence. Through the work of its nine divisions and numerous centers and institutes, the department has pioneered discoveries in medicine, education, scientific and clinical investigation, and clinical care. Emory University School of Medicine's medical school, residency, transitional-year, and fellowship programs offer students the latest knowledge in treatment practices, scientific theories, research, and patient care. The Emory University Department of Medicine is a component of the Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University, which includes the Emory schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Public Health; Yerkes National Primate Research Center; Winship Cancer Institute; and Emory Healthcare.

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