From the gym to a lecture
Oak Hammock program connects experts with residents
By Ansley Pentz
Susan Robell has been treated for gingivitis all her life.
That’s why she went to an Oak Hammock seminar called “Floss for Your Life: the Connection Between Dental Plaque and Systemic Health,” which was given through Oak Hammock’s Institute for Learning in Retirement. At the seminar, which was taught by Ann Progulske-Fox, Ph.D., the director of the department of oral biology program in the UF College of Dentistry, Robell learned about how gingivitis can affect a person’s overall health.
The purpose of Oak Hammock’s Institute for Learning in Retirement program is to engage its retired community members in enriching, educational and stimulating daily classes, said Sara Lynn McCrea, director of community services at Oak Hammock at the University of Florida. More than 550 North Florida seniors participate in the program.
McCrea said the program started in 2002, two years before Oak Hammock opened. At the time, small classes were held around Gainesville, and they were well-received by community members.
Most of the program’s classes are taught by UF professors, either active or retired. The professors enjoy teaching residents because they’re invested in learning, McCrea said.
“Their first comment is, ‘It’s so interesting to present to people who are truly interested,’” she said.
At the seminar Progulske-Fox taught, she explained that there is a relationship between oral health and systemic health, meaning that taking care of your teeth and gums can be beneficial to your entire body.
She said oral upkeep is significant because “periodontal, or gum, disease is involved in cardiovascular disease.” In this case, periodontal bacteria can get into a person’s bloodstream, where they can then infect the cells that line vessels.
Progulske-Fox said her session was important for Oak Hammock residents to hear because the likelihood someone will have periodontal disease increases with age.
“With age, you just have more probability of having the plaque build up,” she said.
But also with age come other diseases and conditions, and Progulske-Fox said oral health often gets overlooked as people focus on other major health concerns.
“The oral health is seen is seen to be not as life-threatening, and so it gets put on the back burner,” she said.
Because all systems are connected, though, she said this neglect can be detrimental, exacerbating existing problems and creating new ones.
“As we age, our immune system is not quite what it used to be,” Progulske-Fox explained.
To be holistically healthy, she said it’s important to take care of oral hygiene and make regular trips to the dental hygienist. At Oak Hammock, UF Health dentists go on site to provide care.
Progulske-Fox said she was excited to give the talk because it would be an opportunity to interact with residents. She thinks Oak Hammock residents have interesting lives and rich experiences to share.
“Their perspective and experience are quite important to hear,” Progulske-Fox said.
Robell said she likes Oak Hammock’s emphasis on good health and a good life.
“The program is open to anyone in Gainesville, and (it’s) easy for anyone who lives on site,” Robell said. “I came from the gym.”
Robell also likes the variety of classes Oak Hammock offers.
“The wonderful thing about the Institute for Learning in Retirement is the exposure so many different classes, like this one about oral health to a class about climate change,” she said. “I fit into what Oak Hammock is all about — we’re not coming here to stop living life. We’re coming here to continue life, and to be as active as possible.”