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Social Determinants of Oral Health: An Introduction

Meet DentaQuest where oral care intersects with economic stability, education, health care, environment and community.

By Steven Barefoot, DDS

The ability to create and maintain good health, including for teeth and gums, extends beyond clinical factors into the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age, known as the social determinants of health (SDOH).  

The five domains of social determinants are economic stability; education access and quality; health care access and quality; neighborhood and built environment; and social and community context, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  

At DentaQuest, we call the intersection of these domains with dental care the social determinants of oral health, and we’re addressing them from numerous angles. 

Solving for Social Determinants of Oral Health

  • Health Care Access — DentaQuest expands access by providing oral care in settings beyond the dentist’s office. For example, our medical-dental integration coordinates dental medicine in primary care and behavioral health settings.

Our TeamSmile collaboration is another way we expand access by providing care in nontraditional settings. TeamSmile connects at-risk children with special dental clinics that take place in local professional sports arenas. 

  • Economic Stability — Staying healthy can be a struggle when you lack coverage. So, DentaQuest works to increase access to adult dental benefits that decrease out-of-pocket expenses associated with delayed care. Furthermore, our value-based care model can alleviate costs by encouraging dental maintenance for ongoing wellness. Efficient spending helps more services to reach more people.
  • Neighborhood and Built Environment — Transportation and mobility issues are common barriers to care, but DentaQuest practitioners can use teledentistry to increase patients’ access. Voice and video technology enable these virtual dental appointments, letting patients consult with a licensed dentist, receive treatment, and more.
  • Education Access — We advocate for system-wide improvements, while also educating and distributing resources in communities. For example, our practitioners use teledentistry not only to deliver care, but also as a tool to provide education. Furthermore, our programs such as Share Your Smile educate children and parents with free, downloadable materials. Produced with the nonprofit America’s ToothFairy and our parent organization, Sun Life, Share Your Smile also equips advocates with sharable social media content to help build awareness of dental-health inequity, its effects, and how citizens can work for change.
  • Community — DentaQuest promotes, educates and delivers care at the grassroots level. Nationwide, we support Health Equity Heroes who champion change to enable equitable access to oral care and improve overall health outcomes for our country’s most vulnerable communities.

DentaQuest, part of Sun Life U.S., believes everyone deserves a healthy mind, a healthy mouth, and a healthy body. That’s why we’re dedicated to finding solutions for the social determinants of oral health. We are optimistic about creating solutions and will continue to share analysis and developments as they occur.

Steven Barefoot, DDS

Associate Director of Clinical Value-based Care

With 30-plus years in dental practice, Steven Barefoot, DDS, associate director of clinical value-based care at DentaQuest, provides clinical input to develop new care programs; manages the design of quality measures; and responds to providers participating in value-based programs. Medical research at Methodist Hospital of Indiana and business development, analysis, and analytics in a range of areas complement Dr. Barefoot’s clinical career.


Preventistry Pulse


The newsletter designed for anyone who wants to improve oral health for themselves, their families, customers or communities.