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Health Equity Hero Cathy Levering

Cathy Levering

Executive Director and CEO, Sacramento District Dental Society and Foundation

Donation Recipient: Sacramento District Dental Society Foundation

Cathy Levering serves as executive director of the Sacramento District Dental Society (SDDS), one of the largest dental societies in the country with 1,800 members. She is known as an advocate for access to care who gets results. Cathy describes SDDS as the conduit to help patients and parents find the right resources for their circumstances. She works with providers to identify members that need help, and her staff holds dental plans and SDDS member providers accountable for each patient’s needs—something that plans, providers, patients and members appreciate.

Truly, how can you say no? Hearing ‘no’ so many times inspired me to work harder to get to a ‘yes’ because our kids deserve better, and we have made such progress. It’s really about education, not just the treatment, and getting the word out. I love doing this and my team loves doing this – and it’s all about the other person on the phone who says yes. I just make the ask.


In Sacramento County, the California Department of Health Care Services contracts directly with multiple managed care plans. The approach, called Geographic Managed Care (GMC), assigns Medicaid members to participating providers. GMC began in 1994 but got a slow start, with low provider and health plan participation and accountability. In 2001, SDDS recruited Cathy to help the dental society better engage with members and the community, and to revitalize its foundation. Cathy worked with all constituents to get GMC working better. Today, nearly 95% of area children have insurance and resources and they are seeing the dentist for preventive dental care.

Cathy engages with dental plans, grants, partners, dentists and others to collaborate on providing children with access to care. Progress is measurable. In 2012, utilization for children ages 6 and under and for those ages 20 and under was 10% and 19%, respectively. Today, dental care utilization is up to 40-50% for both age groups. With continued education to parents and encouragement to the providers’ staffs to make calls for appointments, the hope is to bring the utilization rate to over 60% in the coming year.

Cathy champions several high-profile projects as volunteer executive director for the SDDS foundation. Smiles for Kids includes a school-based dental screening program performed by volunteer member dentists, plus oral-health education through puppet and game shows; a Smiles for Kids treatment day in February; and an after-care/specialty “Adopt a Kid” Program that includes orthodontic treatment for those who qualify. Smiles for Kids Day once treated more than 1,000 children at 40 locations. Now, the events are only needed in fewer than 10 sites, with fewer than 300 kids who require treatment. Fewer urgent cases present at Smiles for Kids, and efforts now focus more on navigation and placement calls. Smiles for BIG Kids launched in 2009 to address the needs of parents, grandparents and the elderly. First Tooth or First Birthday was added to educate family members, community members and clinicians that infants and toddlers need a dentist visit soon after the first teeth erupt. And, since 2006, patients can donate their replaced crowns for refining to Crowns for Kids where all proceeds benefit Smiles for Kids. To date, $407,000 has been raised thanks to the dentists and their patients.

Smiles for Kids Program Stats (since 1991)

  • More than 1 million kids and counting served
  • Smiles for Kids Day began in 2003, treating 17,000 kids thus far
  • $15.7 million in dental treatment provided pro bono by SDDS member dentists
  • Half a million kids screened in schools
    • 1,236 kids received orthodontic treatment since 1996
    • 30 to 40 kids get braces for free each year
    • Each orthodontist takes a new patient every other year
    • For kids who have Medi-Cal dental coverage but do not qualify for ortho coverage

Smiles for Big Kids Stats (since 2009)

  • $1.9 million in pro bono dental care by SDDS members
  • Patients average age 48
  • 129 adults over age 60
  • 800 patients placed
  • Many local labs provide discounts for the program

First Tooth or First Birthday Program

  • Campaign to educate medical community, including ob-gyns and pediatricians
  • Encourages providers to talk to patients about getting kids into the dentist before age 1
  • “Knee-to-knee” training educates member on how to screen young children
  • The campaign has grown from fewer than 100 to 500 dentists

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