In the shoes of … | Dr Rebecca Wassall, Senior Community Dentist and Clinical Lecturer in Dentistry

It is always great to post new ‘in my shoes’ guest blogs – always by passionate people with a story to tell. But sometimes I see real ‘gaps’ in the series and wonder how I can fill them. From my own personal experiences with Betty, my Mum-in-law, I know of the importance of good nutritional care for people living with dementia (well, all of us actually, but you know what I mean) but maintaining dentistry and oral hygiene can be a really difficult challenge. So, back in October. I spotted this tweet by Dr Rebecca Wassall, Clinical Dental Lecturer at Newcastle University and Senior Community Dentist at Northumbria NHS trust:

I flagged up that I had already posted a great blog by Sheila Merriman, Specialist Intermediate Services Dietitian, Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital  on nutritional care and invited Rebecca to write about dentistry. Between us, it has taken a while for us to get our act together but I am delighted to post Rebecca’s important story today. And this has meant that I am now able to include the wonderful graphic by Sarah Smizz about Rebecca’s NHS Change Day pledge so you have a double treat…

Rebecca Wassall

Rebecca Wassall

Someone asked me why I was going to blog about being a special care dentist, a dentist who provides care for people living with dementia but unable to access dental care from a high street dentist. Really what I wanted to share is that I am not unusual or a superwoman but just a normal dentist who sees the person as the starting point and not the teeth. This is important for all people but crucial for people living with dementia. Obvious, you may say… and I would agree that it is a ‘must’ not an option to consider the whole person you are caring for. However, the reality is often a lot more difficult. I will try to explain why with a few examples…

As I arrive in my car outside his house, my nurse in the passenger side and a box of equipment in the boot, I spend a few minutes reviewing the referral letter. This is all I know about the patient and it gives me his name, address, date or birth and a request for new dentures to be made due to the poor fit of his old ones. When I knock on the door I am greeted by the patient’s wife who introduces me to her beloved husband who lives with vascular dementia. We spend a good while talking and listening. We come up with a plan and I feel privileged to be included as a caregiver. My reward – a killer smile when the new dentures were fitted or a heartfelt hug to say thanks for really caring for her husband. Both make me realise that I have the best job in the world!

A different day and a different patient. The referral letter is very similar….new dentures required. This time I ring the bell at the home. I am let in and shown to a room, I greet the patient but I’ve not been introduced, I feel I have no right to be there and I feel lost as to how to make a connection. I ask for support. The patient’s diagnosis is relayed but it is rushed.

I tell these two stories to emphasise that, as a visiting dentist, I rely so heavily on the daily caregivers. They are my lifeline. They enable and show me how to connect with the person. I need them so very much to enable me to do my job and care for the person as well as their teeth. How do I ensure I am part of the holistic team? How do I work effectively with the daily caregivers who seem so very busy already?

I don’t yet have the answers to these questions but what I do have (thanks to Twitter) is a way to connect with an amazing network of people, getting insight into their perspective and enabling me to start to work things out in the open.

Thank you Rebecca! Please post comments on this thoughtful and important blog!


About Gill Phillips - Whose Shoes?

Passionate about personalisation in health & social care. Creator of Whose Shoes? - an imaginative approach to helping people work together to improve lives.
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