Discount program helps provide dental care for those on fixed incomes Office on Aging refers patients

September 15, 1993|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Staff Writer

When Nancy Irani first visited Dr. Daniel Devlin in April for an initial consultation with the Ellicott City dentist, she was apprehensive.

"I was so nervous, I didn't want to sit in the chair," said the 58-year-old Columbia resident.

With a limited income and a host of dental problems, the former teacher's aide had put off dental care for too long -- until she learned about the Reduced Fee Dental Program offered by the Howard County Office on Aging.

The 10-year-old program, endorsed by the Howard County Dental Association, offers discount dental care to county residents over 60 and their spouses who are under 60.

Dr. Devlin, one of 10 county dentists participating in the program, provided weekly gum treatments to Mrs. Irani at a discount over a period of about two months.

"He was like a savior to me," Mrs. Irani said. "He was so gentle and caring. . . . I had never had that much work done in 36 years."

Her 62-year-old husband, Godrej, who has Parkinson's disease and who needed denture work, also is a patient of Dr. Devlin's.

Since it began in 1983, the county program has helped provide discount dental care to about 200 people, said Louis Prebil, senior information and assistance specialist at the county's Office On Aging.

He noted that most government health programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, offer no dental aid, or minimal assistance. Private dental insurance, meanwhile, often is tied to an employee benefit package.

As a result, he said, "individual dental health insurance is usually out of range for a senior living on a limited income."

The county's program helps defray costs of dental work that otherwise would be unaffordable to such seniors, said Mr. Prebil.

"Seniors don't want charity; they are quite willing to pay," said Mr. Prebil.

I= Participating dentists offer discounts that average about

25 percent or more, said Mr. Prebil. Other money to help pay for dental treatment is available from charities and from the county's Office on Aging.

Though the program began with 35 dentists, the number had dwindled to three as of last year. In an effort to expand the program, Mr. Prebil sent letters to 78 practicing dentists in Howard County and recruited 10 of them.

Between August 1992 and July of this year, 20 seniors werscreened by the Information and Assistance division of the Office on Aging and referred to participating dentists on a rotating basis.

Eligible seniors must be at least 60 years of age and residents othe county; spouses under 60 also are eligible. Individuals' monthly incomes may not exceed $1,166; couples' incomes may not exceed $1,500.

"Everybody knows that trying to live on a fixed income isn't always easy these days," said Dr. Devlin. "We try to help seniors as much as we can and we want people to get the normal care they need."

Though he would not specify his discount, Dr. Devlin said he and his associate, Dr. Daniel C. Stewart, set the fee on a case-by-case basis.

"We try to get an idea of their ability to afford the care, and base the fee accordingly," he said.

Dr. Devlin has treated about a dozen patients during his two years with the program, which he learned about from the Howard County Dental Association.

"It's great to be able to get involved in a program like this," Dr. Devlin said. "Participating in programs that help citizens get the care they need gives us a good feeling."

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