"My mom is tough, yet she is the kindest and most generous woman you’ll ever meet," said Lane’s daughter Casandra Zupancic, 55. "She didn’t want to trouble anyone with her problem. But my brother Chris and I knew something was wrong with her teeth and we needed to help her."
While seeking a dentist in private practice who could treat her fragile and ailing mother, Zupancic was referred to the Senior Care Dental Clinic at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. The clinic is one of only a handful in the country dedicated to providing oral health care solely for patients aged 55 and older.
Tam Van, D.D.S., is director of the Senior Care Dental Clinic.
"As soon as I brought my mom in, the staff immediately took great care of her. Dr. Van knew exactly what she needed."
Within two months, Lane was chewing and eating normally again with her new dentures.
Zupancic was so impressed with the care her mother received, that she, herself, decided to become a patient in the clinic. She had been diagnosed a few years earlier with a rare autoimmune disorder called Churg-Strauss syndrome or allergic granulomatosis. The disease, which has no cure, is marked by blood vessel inflammation, which can restrict blood flow to vital organs and tissues, oftentimes causing permanent damage. Over time, the disease damaged the bone in her jaw and Zupancic would need nine teeth, including some molars, removed. She also would need to undergo a surgical procedure called alveoloplasty in which the bone in the jaw is smoothed.
After a series of visits over the course of a year, Zupancic’s dental work was completed, and by the spring of 2012 she was fitted for new upper and lower partials.
"I wouldn’t have gone anywhere else," Zupancic said. "My mother and I are so grateful for the Health Science Center’s Dental Clinic. Dr. Van took the time to consider everything my mom and I needed. She was so patient. I trust her with my life."
The Senior Care Dental Clinic was established in 2000 by Eleanore Paunovich, D.D.S., M.S., associate professor in the Dental School, with funds from the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation.
When finances present a barrier to treatment, the clinic offers patients the opportunity to apply for a discount based on their income and national Federal Poverty Level guidelines. Funding and space provided by the Dental School, operational revenues as well as grants and philanthropic support, when available, keep the clinic and its services in operation.
The clinic operates seven dental exam rooms and is staffed by Dental School faculty who complete a geriatric dentistry fellowship. Third-year dental students rotate through the clinic providing faculty supervised care to patients.
Student Meagan Garcia completed her rotation in the clinic this past spring and later volunteered to continue working alongside Dr. Van.
"I was a little nervous at first because of the patients’ complex medical histories," Garcia said. "But Dr. Van was so thorough that I was always ready and prepared. After reviewing patient charts and making notes, Dr. Van met with us to discuss each patient and mapped out step-by-step the care we would provide. Spending time in Dr. Van’s clinic with patients who ask, ‘so how’s school been for you?’ was the highlight of my week. We call our patients ‘family.’"
Faculty members take pride in training the next generation of oral health care providers.
"Students appreciate learning from each other and from their patients in an environment that encourages understanding of the total patient needs," Dr. Van said. "Everyone deserves the best oral health care. It is our goal and privilege to provide it."
Excellent care for elderly
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