Health equity is all about providing the support and resources that people need so they can access care and achieve positive outcomes.
Sometimes, it’s a matter of addressing where people live and work, because their environment can increase disparities in health equity. For example, 56 million Americans live in areas without enough dentists to serve the local community, according to the National Institute for Health Care Management. Often, entire regions lack insurance and services.
Supporting Local Community Partnerships
Among DentaQuest’s 2023 Health Equity Heroes are three individuals dedicated to building health equity in their communities.
Cathy Levering, CEO and executive director of the Sacramento District Dental Society (SDDS) and Foundation, holds dental plans and providers accountable for delivering care to Medicaid members, and helps patients and parents to connect with the right resources. Her efforts have led to significant improvements in insurance coverage and resources for children in the Sacramento area: nearly 95% now have benefits.
Collaborating with dental plans, grantors, dentists and others to provide children with oral health care, Cathy reports she has achieved 40 to 50 percent greater utilization since 2012 among young people up to age 20. She works to build on this success with ongoing parental education and encouragement among provider staff to make appointment-setting calls. Furthermore, Cathy leads SDDS Foundation community events that deliver dental screenings, education and oral care to children and adults.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), untreated tooth decay is widespread for adults with:
- low incomes or no insurance coverage
- less than a high school education
- non-Hispanic Black and Mexican American racial/ethnic backgrounds
Furthermore, Medicaid is not required to provide dental benefits to adult enrollees, and more than a dozen states provide no coverage or emergency coverage only.
Gail Tessier Brown turned that story around for New Hampshire. Serving as director of the New Hampshire Oral Health Coalition, she worked to establish an adult Medicaid dental benefit in New Hampshire.
It was a difficult journey that took more than two decades. Despite a vetoed proposal in 2020 and a failed bill in 2021, Gail persisted. Now more than 120,000 state residents qualify for adult Medicaid dental benefits.
Because academia and hospital systems do not teach clinicians about the connection between overall and oral health, Gail has worked to help people better understand and navigate the health system so they can access the best care. Now that Medicaid dental benefits are in effect for her state, she is leading the coalition in maintaining momentum to fill gaps in access to oral health care, supporting others’ advocacy, educating community stakeholders and helping to spread the word about mobile dental clinics.
Keep Building Oral Health Equity
Public health professionals have long understood the link between oral health and overall vitality. Recognizing the importance of treating the whole person, Bridget Saffold, MSN, MPH, RN, founded Focus on Diabetes to address gaps in diabetes management and patient care in Eastern Iowa. With appreciation of oral health’s significant impact on overall wellbeing and its connection to diabetes, Bridget works to educate her community about early detection and prevention.
With a hyper-local, personal approach, Bridget addresses common barriers experienced by patients in hospitals and clinics. The annual Cedar Valley Focus on Diabetes event brings community members together with local physicians and health care organizations, who provide free screenings and share education about treatment options and tools. In addition, Focus on Diabetes hosts quarterly Let’s Talk About Health events to facilitate closer engagement. These interactions outside health care settings foster trust among attendees, who gain comfort with clinicians while gaining confidence for self-advocacy.
At DentaQuest, part of Sun Life U.S., our mission is to improve the oral health of all. This includes honoring and supporting the communities where we live and work. Our community partnerships support local organizations to create measurably healthier communities. DentaQuest’s 2023 Health Equity Heroes are health connectors who improve health care access for those with the greatest needs and fewest resources. Watch this space for more appreciation of how their work complements our purpose to achieve health equity.
The newsletter designed for anyone who wants to improve oral health for themselves, their families, customers or communities.