In college I participated in an internship program that allowed students into psychiatric hospitals to interact with patients with chronic mental illnesses. All interns were required to carry a personal duress alarm system, every corridor was locked on both ends, and patients could wear only the color khaki. At the time, my goal as an intern was to make the patients smile. We played board games like Scrabble and dominos, a patient taught me to play pool, and we celebrated birthdays together.
As a dental student, I look back on that experience with many questions, specifically regarding the health care residents receive. How can oral care be delivered efficiently in that space and for that particular population? How can dental professionals help them gain confidence in their smiles?
I spoke to Dr. Robert Leonetti, who served as director of dental services until 2000 at Ancora Psychiatric Hospital in Hammanton, New Jersey, and Dr. Paul Kovalski, current chief of dental services at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in Morris Plains, New Jersey. Although psychiatric facilities vary in their philosophy toward oral health, the two doctors’ experiences can show how dentistry fits into patient care in a state hospital.
According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, roughly 35,000 Americans with severe mental illness lived in state mental hospitals in 2012. Data from the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality found that the two leading causes of mental facility hospitalizations in 2006 were schizophrenia and mood disorders, such as major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder. Each patient receives a personalized regimen of care, which may include a combination of psychotherapy, support groups, brain stimulation and pharmacological intervention.
Read the rest of this article in the October issue of Contour.
~Vivien Lee, Las Vegas ’22, ASDA Contributing Editor