Seniors & Aging

Retired teacher thankful for dental program at Bellingham senior center

Dental hygienist Anita Rodriguez feels around the mouth of Alice Ellingson during a teeth cleaning visit Friday morning, Dec. 17, 2010 at the Bellingham Senior Center. Ellingson has been a part of the Smiles for Life Senior Dental Access Program since it started in 2007.
Dental hygienist Anita Rodriguez feels around the mouth of Alice Ellingson during a teeth cleaning visit Friday morning, Dec. 17, 2010 at the Bellingham Senior Center. Ellingson has been a part of the Smiles for Life Senior Dental Access Program since it started in 2007. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Alice Ellingson says the high cost of dental appointments prevented her from getting regular cleanings and dental care until she found out about reduced-cost dentistry at the Bellingham Senior Activity Center.

A former special-education teacher, she says she has to make sure her teeth are in good condition because tartar, or hardened dental plaque, is genetic in her family.

Age: 82.

Home: Bellingham, for 63 years.

Well-educated: Ellingson remembers taking home economics classes at Western Washington University in the Old Main building. She graduated in 1970 with a teaching degree in home economics, and later attended Kansas State University for her master's degree in institutional food preparation.

"I figured Home Ec. would be easy," Ellingson says. "I'd been married for years, so I thought I'd have no problem. Little did I know it'd be hard work."

Teaching career: Ellingson commuted to teach special education at Everett High School, and later taught at Bellingham Technical College.

Long marriage: She was married to Neil Ellingson, a World War II veteran and former Georgia-Pacific foreman, for 47 years, until he died.

"We'd go to meetings together, go camping and we had a property in Winthrop," she says. "We'd travel around the Pacific Northwest."

How they met: "I was living in Long Beach when my husband's ship was docked there in 1945," she says. "We met, fell in love, and two months later we were married by a judge."

Growing family: Ellingson has four daughters, 11 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and four great-great grandchildren. She says her two oldest daughters in their 60s have false teeth because of tartar.

Get-togethers: Ellingson's daughters and their families are spread out across the country, so once a year they pick a different state for a family reunion. Last summer, they met in Colorado.

Life as a matriarch: "You don't even think about it," Ellingson says. "You just think well, there's this child and that grandchild. ... As you get older, you never age in your mind; you're 35 years old."

Loves to read: "I have piles of books at my house," she says.

Cookbooks and mystery novels are her favorites.

Involved in community: Ellingson is active in several organizations, including Veterans of Foreign Wars Ladies Auxiliary Post 1585, and Daughters of the American Revolution.

"I've definitely become an organizer, it's just part of my personality," she says. "If you looked at my house, you'd say this woman has no order, but in my mind I like things orderly."

VFW service: "We're always talking about how we're going to the help the community and the veterans," Ellingson says. "This past Veterans Day, we went to a veterans' nursing home to chat with and give gifts to the men there."

Insurance problem: "When my husband was alive, we had dental insurance through Georgia-Pacific," she says. "After he passed away, I did get into a bad situation because I had to go the dentist and without my husband's insurance the bill was astronomical."

Tale of tartar: "It forms around your teeth and gets hard; that's why you have to have your teeth cleaned," Ellingson explains. "If you don't get your teeth cleaned, you may need surgery or may need to have your teeth removed. Because of tartar problems in our family, we tend to lose our teeth."

Ellingson has an upper denture plate and lower partial dentures.

Teeth missing: Aside from tartar, Ellingson says missing teeth also runs in her family.

"It's just kind of strange," she says. "In one of my front teeth, the baby tooth stayed there, but it's not a problem for me. One niece of mine had two of her front teeth missing, and the ones in back just filled in."

Dental routine at home: Ellingson brushes twice daily and flosses once a day. She also takes vitamins and calcium supplements.

Healthy teeth important: "For seniors, you've got to keep those teeth brushed, and if something goes wrong, get to a dentist as soon as possible, even if it's going to be costly," Ellingson says. "I know an older lady who still has most of her teeth because she figured the money was worth it."


HELP FOR SENIORS

The Senior Smiles for Life program provides low-cost dental care at Bellingham Senior Activity Center, 315 Halleck St. For appointments, call 360-738-2500.

Bellingham Technical College offers low-cost dental care at its dental hygiene clinic, but the clinic is closed until early February. To have your name added to the patient waiting list, call 360-715-8349, ext. 2.

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