Deanna Duff
Ballard resident Jan Loder, a registered dental hygienist, founded Healthy Pearls for Seniors, which provides affordable, accessible dental care at the Ballard Northwest Senior Cente

Healthy smiles abound at Ballard NW Senior Center

By Deanna Duff, contributor

Ballardite Jan Loder is creating happy, healthy smiles at the Ballard Northwest Senior Center. Loder, a registered dental hygienist, founded Healthy Pearls for Seniors in 2010, which is a mobile dental care unit that provides accessible and affordable dental care to seniors 60 years and older.

“People are now often 80 years old with all their teeth,” said Loder. “It’s even more important to think about long-term care. Yet, about 80 percent of my seniors don’t have a dentist.”

Upon retirement, medical coverage is often reduced or eliminated for many seniors. Budget cuts to senior services have further reduced options. To address the need, Washington State approved legislation in 2009 allowing dental hygienists to offer limited services in senior centers. The program has grown from two sites to over 50 statewide including Loder’s work in Ballard.

“A patient’s first appointment is about an hour and a half,” said Loder. “You can’t usually do that in a private practice, but that’s what it typically takes to accommodate their needs.”

Patients must first receive a medical clearance from their physician and once they’re approved, Loder provides a full head, neck and intraoral exam, teeth cleaning and extensive education. While she cannot diagnose, she frequently refers patients to senior-friendly dentists for followup. Most importantly, Loder charges only $85-$100.

“Since the cost is considerably less, we can have our teeth cleaned three times a year instead of twice,” said Ken Kack, 88 years old. Kack and his wife, Helen, live in Ballard and are able to walk to the Senior Center for their appointments.

Ideally, seniors need more frequent cleanings - about every three to four months - so Loder’s affordability goes a long way towards encouraging frequency. Medications can affect dental health and unattended problems lead to trouble eating and often pain.

“She really takes her time and doesn’t waste a minute,” said Helen Kack. “We also appreciate the suggestions on what we need to do every day to maintain good oral health.”

Equally important is the sense of community Loder creates. A Ballard resident herself, she works one day a week, every other month at Ballard’s Senior Center and has developed ongoing relationships. She’ll treat about 30 patients this year.

“I had a woman that it took two appointments to fully clean her teeth and the goal was to get her out of feeling discomfort. She was so grateful that she wanted to overpay me. I was so touched,” said Loder.

As Beatrice Ruhli, 80 years old, rises from the patient chair, hugs are exchanged and congratulations are in order. Ruhli is celebrating her 55th wedding anniversary that day. Her smile is wide and bright and ready for an evening on the town.

“I love working with the seniors and hearing their stories. The entire experience is really a privilege,” said Loder.

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