Yad Sarah’s Geriatric Dental Clinic:
The Human- professional touch
Yad Sarah’s Geriatric Dental Clinic turned out to be the answer to the prayers of those senior citizens who can not eat with what was left of their teeth and can not afford to pay for dental care. Yad Sarah’s Geriatric Dental Clinic comprises some of the kindest and most meticulous professionals they have encountered–inside or outside Israel.
A feisty, no-nonsense Batya Greenberg, for example, pays tribute to the volunteer senior doctor at the Clinic who treated her with “golden hands” for a number of denture problems. Batya’s dentist still stays in touch with her as a personal friend, visiting her once a week at her residence in the Bukharin neighbourhood of Jerusalem. David Levinger, a Shoah survivor from Slovakia, says that the treatment he received from Clinic staff was “hamon nechmad [super nice],” even “unforgettable.” Tovah Stein, an 8th generation Israeli, goes so far as to call her experience “mei-eyn Olam Habah [like a taste of the World to Come]” . (above- Dr. Sarit Palmon (right) - the director and guiding hand behaind the speical dental team).
Yad Sarah’s primary focus is to diagnose and treat the unique dental problems arising in patients above the age of 65–whatever their economic, social, religious or ethnic backgrounds. This is a specialized but still relatively small field of dental practice. It is one where, at clinics like Yad Sarah, Israel is beginning to excel on a global basis.
Arye Haneshri, a former Torah Studies emissary for Israel, spent his professional life in Belgium and Germany. During that period, for thirty years, he was treated for all his teeth in Germany, a country renowned for the advanced level of its dental practitioners. Yet, he avers, the extensive treatment he received at Yad Sarah after his return to Israel, is at a level well above the care he experienced back in Europe.
Haneshri may be wheelchair-bound (another feature of the Clinic is to treat patients with limited mobility at their homes), but still has a daily Torah Shiur, still entertains former students from Europe who come to visit, and still engages his listeners in a bit of lively colorful word-play: “Before my teeth were fixed at Yad Sarah I had lots of problems chewing. They did a wonderful job at the Clinic. Now, my wife Tziporah eats like a Tzipor (bird) compared to me. So what else do you need to know?”
Although the percentage of persons over 65 in Israel’s population is still smaller than in Western countries (10% versus 15%), the number is increasing steadily (projected at 12% in 2020). Relatively little attention is paid to the particular dental needs of this segment of society at dental schools, here or abroad. So treatment centers such as Yad Sarah’s clinic must develop their own expertise.
There are currently 60 dental professionals at the Clinic, headquartered in Jerusalem, with branches around the country, mobile mini-clinics and individual doctors equipped with portable kits to treat patients unable to leave their homes for extended periods. Approximately 6000 patients are treated by the Clinic each year.
The entire enterprise is under the direction of Dr. Sarit Palmon, 47, an experienced practitioner in the area of oral rehabilitation. She describes the apprenticeship for new professionals at Yad Sarah as a carefully crafted two-track process. There is the critical technical side–knowing how to recognize the special needs of and treatment for the elderly. But there is also the human, derech eretz dimension: the Clinic tries to ensure that its patients not only fully understand the type of care they are receiving, but are also comfortable with the whole experience, which can last months.
Tovah Stein spent a good part of a year to have her teeth redone at the clinic. Hard as it may be to believe for a dental practice, she describes a visit to the Clinic as a “chagigah” (a celebration). According to Stein, the reception staff is warm, welcoming and tuned-in to their clientele, the doctors are patient and friendly, and Dr. Palmon, the Clinic Director, is always agreeable, and willing and available to address concerns directly with anyone being treated at the center.