Monday, July 31, 2017

‘Action for Dental Health’ in Congress

While we all paid close attention to health care in the Senate last week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee made a critical, yet mostly overlooked step to advance oral health for at-risk populations.

On July 27th, the Committee unanimously passed HR 2422, or the Action for Dental Health Act of 2017. This bill calls for Congress to authorize additional oral health promotion and disease prevention programs to help at-risk populations struggling to obtain appropriate oral health care.

The bill points out that more than 181 million Americans will not see a dentist, but almost half of people ages 30 and older have some form of gum disease and nearly a quarter of children under age 5 already have cavities. 

As we at DentaQuest well know, caries is the most prevalent chronicdisease among children and can be prevented. What’s more, we see time and again that Americans of all ages are in desperate need of access to oral health care - Missions of Mercy like the one in Wise County, Va., is a great example. Both the Washington Post and The New York Times covered the July event, for which thousands of people come from miles away and lineup for hours and even days just to get access to dental and other services.

If this new legislation passes through Congress, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will award grants and collaborate with states, counties, public officials, or other stakeholders to implement a variety of initiatives.

These activities could include oral health programs that:
·         more broadly use portable/mobile dental equipment;
·         facilitate the establishment of dental homes;
·         eliminate geographic, language, cultural, or other barriers to care;
·         reduce the use of emergency departments for dental conditions; and
·         provide dental care to nursing home residents.

It is exciting to see bipartisan support for dental care initiatives that have tremendous impacts on the oral and overall health of patients. This type of work will drastically improve the health of Americans. And it has the ability to address the estimated $2.6 billion in free care that dentists currently deliver, as well as the nearly $2.1 billion spent on dental cases in hospital emergency departments – 80 percent of which could be treated in a dental office for roughly $4 million total, according to the bill.

Bipartisanship like this must continue and we urge legislators to make oral health a critical component of any health reform legislation that passes through this Congress. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Congress: Protect Access to Dental Health Care

As the Senate debates health care bill proposals to transform our care delivery and financing systems, we must ensure they protect access to dental coverage for all Americans.

Over the past few years, more and more Americans have been able to access affordable dental coverage. In fact, since 2000, the percentage of children without dental coverage has been cut in half.

Medicaid has played a critical role in this progress. Dental services are considered an essential part of the Early Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) program, which ensures that children receive regular dental care. Adults have also benefited in recent years, with 5.4 million adults gaining coverage through Medicaid expansion.

Other public programs have also helped. Because pediatric dental benefits are considered an essential health benefit on the exchanges, more kids have coverage. Further, many adults have selected dental coverage through the marketplaces.

As more of us gain access to coverage, we see the rate of untreated decay declining among low-income children, and research shows that costly emergency department visits for dental-related issues have declined. These improvements are in large part attributable to the fact that more people have access to dental coverage.

Over the past several months – continuing this week and for likely the near future – Congress has explored various avenues for health care reform. The value of oral health care and dental coverage cannot be overlooked in these conversations.

Let’s not overlook that tooth decay remains the most chronic condition among children, which can affect school performance and attendance.

Additionally, optimal oral health is not simply a goal in itself, but is vital to creating healthier communities. Research has shown that tooth decay can result in an elevated risk for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. What’s more, recent studies demonstrate that treatment of gum disease can lead to better overall health management—as evidenced by lower health care costs and fewer hospitalizations—among people with common health conditions like those mentioned above or even pregnancy.

Any health care reforms must ensure dental remains a priority.

By improving access to dental coverage for low-income families in the past few years, we as a nation have made tremendous strides to
  • ensure children are well-positioned for a lifetime of optimal health;  
  • decrease poor quality, high-cost emergency department visits for dental-associated issues; and
  • improve the oral and overall health of vulnerable populations.

We hope Congress pursues solutions that protect these improvements.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

DentaQuest Foundation grassroots grantees ready to leap for oral health

I recently heard the perfect analogy for our oral health advocacy during the DentaQuest Foundation’s Grassroots Engagement Strategy annual meeting. It’s a saying gardeners have about the growth process of perennials: “The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, then the third year they leap!”  This year is the year for the grassroots organizations and their partners to leap!

DentaQuest Foundation’s Grassroots Engagement Strategy started in March 2015 as an initiative to engage those most directly impacted by oral health inequities. Focused in six key states - Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Virginia - the Grassroots Engagement Strategy leverages an existing network of key oral health advocates and stakeholders operating at the state level. The DentaQuest Foundation has funded 20 community-based organizations within these states to provide oral health outreach and take action on social justice and oral health equity, all with the goal of improving public perception of the value of oral health in their communities.

These 20 grantees represent deep and diverse experience working directly with community members and contribute essential perspectives of community advocacy and action. They are providing community-grounded voices within a broad group of stakeholders at the state, regional, and national levels, a perspective that is critical if we are to reach our mission of improving oral health for all.

The Grassroots Engagement Strategy has now entered its third year of development, and the purpose of the annual meeting this spring was for grantees to learn from one another about what has been accomplished in the last year, what is planned for the year ahead, and how to deepen the commitment to health equity.

On day one, each organization presented its community-driven plan that covered stakeholders, how they have incorporated the Oral Health 2020 goals into their communities, 2017 organizational priorities, their proudest moments, and their greatest challenges.

For example, one organization discussed advancing a legislative advocacy strategy around protecting oral health equity policies, while dealing with the major challenge that oral health is not a top priority for the community members facing other economic and social challenges.

On day two, many of the Oral Health 2020 national advocacy partners presented the resources and tools in development that will support the grassroots organizations in their work. Attendees also discussed how they can learn from one another and build their capacity to make change at the community level.

Additionally, there were presentations on different approaches to advocacy and lobbying, including how to provide empowerment opportunities for community members in advocacy and public policy.  Partners also discussed how they work collaboratively with other organizations to activate coalitions and networks that share common goals.

The underlying themes throughout the discussion:

  • health equity 
  • the link between oral health and other social determinants of health 
  • the implications that these have 
  • who  needs to be at the table  

Similar to previous years, the grassroots organizations returned home with a sense of rejuvenated momentum for oral health.   Words like “motivated,” “energized,” and “connected” were used by attendees format the close of the meeting.  With the political landscape changing, the role of grassroots organizations engaging in advocacy is even more critical at the local, state and national levels.

When community members are educated on the topic of oral health and have the passion and understanding of its impact, their voices are powerful.  

The Oral Health 2020 Network is excited to see the progress that will continue in these communities and beyond. The grassroots grantees are ready to “leap” into action for year three of the Grassroots Engagement Strategy!

Guest post from DentaQuest Foundation's grants team member Liana DiRamio. Learn more about the grants and programs here:

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

DentaQuest Remains Voice for Oral Health Equity in Disparities Leadership Program

For the second straight year, DentaQuest is participating in the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Disparities Leadership Program. Last year, DentaQuest became the first oral health organization to be accepted into the program. Over the next 12 months, we will build upon our previous efforts to promote oral health equity for Medicaid and CHIP populations.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently released a paper that defines health equity as “the ethical and human rights principle that motivates us to eliminate health disparities,” both a process and an outcome.

Now in in its 11th year, the program gathers a variety of health care leaders to develop strategies that address disparities in health care. We are particularly excited to remain part of this team, which is designed to cultivate leaders who can align equity efforts with the transition to value-based health care.

DentaQuest is one of five health plans in this year’s class and once again the only oral health organization. Our project will focus on how to leverage data and our national footprint to identify and alleviate oral health disparities, while also promoting equity as a key objective for our own organization.

Why is it important that oral health leaders are involved?

Despite progress towards a more equitable health care system, oral health disparities persist.

  • Untreated dental disease is disproportionately prevalent among racial and ethnic minorities
    •  42 percent of African American adults and 36 percent of Hispanic adults have untreated dental disease, compared to 22 percent of Caucasians
  • Among adults with incomes below the federal poverty line, 42 percent have tooth decay—that’s three times more than adults with incomes above 400 percent of the federal poverty line.
  • Rural areas experience higher rates of dental disease and tooth loss with lower preventive utilization rates.
  • Barriers such as cost and fear of discrimination mean just 10 percent of the surveyed LGBT population say they have regular dental visits.

With much progress still to be made, the four branches of the DentaQuest enterprise—benefits administration, philanthropy, science, and care delivery—will work in tandem to reduce inequities in the communities we serves across the country. This work not only enables us to get closer to achieving oral health for all, but also will drive our work with others.

Ultimately, our participation in this program steps up our ability to address health equity collaboratively with our partners – from states and clients to providers and patients.

Monday, May 8, 2017

DentaQuest Institute Releases New Report on Interprofessional Care in Rural Communities

New white paper delves into the role of interprofessional networks to coordinate person-centered care and improve oral health

DentaQuest Institute, in collaboration with the South Carolina Office of Rural Health, the Medical University of South Carolina, the Colorado Rural Health Center, and the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health, just released a new white paper , MORE Care: Narrowing the Rural Interprofessional Oral Health Care Gap. The report highlights the importance of interprofessional oral health networks in achieving person-centered care and population health improvement. By producing coordinated care pathways between dental medicine and primary and behavioral health, interprofessional oral health networks have the potential to improve patient outcomes, increase patient and provider satisfaction, and reduce the cost of providing and receiving care.

The report is the result of two years of collective findings from the Medical Oral Expanded Care (MORE Care) Initiative involving twenty-one Rural Health Clinics and fifteen rural dental care partners located in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. MORE Care partners provide insight into the main factors affecting the initiation of interprofessional oral health practice observed during the early phases of MORE Care.

The white paper, and a soon-to-be-released implementation guide, offer insight into the needs of Rural Health Clinics and rural dental care teams as they undertook the creation of interprofessional oral health networks (IPOHNs). In addition to creating interprofessional oral health networks, the purpose of MORE Care is to serve as a vehicle for adopting system change in the rural communities.

For more information on how dental programs serving rural communities can leverage MORE Care, contact Rebekah Mathews, director of transformation at

Monday, May 1, 2017

Healthy Vision Month reminds us to make our eyes a priority

May is Healthy Vision Month. With that in mind, we at eyeQuest encourage everyone to make eye health a priority and take steps to protect vision for a lifetime.

Vision might change as we get older, but vision loss is not a normal part of aging. Common eye diseases such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and age-related macular degeneration threaten millions of Americans, potentially robbing them of vision, mobility, and independence.

New technologies are making a difference, but early diagnosis, timely treatment, and appropriate follow-up care are essential to preventing irreversible vision loss.

Early stages of common eye diseases typically have no symptoms and can only be detected through a comprehensive dilated eye exam. If you are over 40, a dilated eye exam is recommended yearly, especially if you are at higher risk for eye disease.

As an example, Glaucoma, which causes “silent” damage to the optic nerve, is more common in people with certain risk factors such as African-Americans ages 40 and older; everyone ages 60 and older, especially Latin Americans; and people with a family history of the disease.

The number one cause of permanent loss of vision in people under age 60 is diabetic retinopathy. Also for people over 60, the risk for age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) rises significantly.
All of these conditions progress without any symptoms at all. The good news is that with early detection through regular eye exams, they are all manageable.  Vision loss is mostly preventable if treatment is started before the damage is done.

Recent clinical trials sponsored by the National Eye Institute have shown great progress in the prevention of AMRD-related vision loss. The latest study results (known as AREDS) determined that people at high risk of developing AMRD could lower their risk by about 25 percent by taking vitamins with certain antioxidants and minerals –  another reason to eat your spinach and other green leafy vegetables.

So, do your older self a favor and think about how important your vision is during healthy vision month. If it has been more than a year since your last eye exam, schedule an appointment and then ask your eye doctor about any of your risk factors. Awareness and regular eye care can make a difference. Much like regular dental care!  

Make healthy vision last a lifetime. During Healthy Vision Month, encourage friends and family to make eye health a priority. For more information about keeping eyes healthy, visit and download a healthy vision month toolkit.

Guest post from eyeQuest Vision Director Vidya Baliga

Monday, April 17, 2017

National Minority Health Month: A Thank You to Community Health Promoters

During National Minority Health Month, we’re calling attention to barriers many people must overcome to enjoy their best health, and the advocates who help them. 

One of our jobs as a leading health care organization is to help people understand what they need to do to stay healthy – and that starts with literacy.

Literacy skills are one of the strongest predictors of oral health status – stronger than age, income, employment status, education level, or racial/ethnic group.  It is estimated that at least a third of adults in the United States have limited health literacy and nearly half of all American adults - 90 million people - have difficulty understanding and using health information. Because of that, folks delay taking action, and before long, small problems become big health issues.  

Community health workers are stepping in to help people understand and navigate our health care system. It’s a very personal approach to health education. DentaQuest’s outreach team spends a lot of time in the community talking to people about oral health and explaining dental benefits and how to use them. National Minority Health Month gives us an opportunity to talk about the importance of community health workers — promotores*, or  outreach specialists. These committed team members are doing incredible work to bridge health equity across communities.

Community outreach specialists are hyper grassroots, frontline public health translators. Using the strength of their personality; personal contacts; trust; and an intimate understanding of the community’s strengths, needs and social networks, they tackle sensitive health topics, correct misinformation, and connect people with quality care.  In some parts of the United States, our certified promotores are at work in rural and urban areas at clinics, churches, workplaces, schools, and even around agricultural fields.

These outreach specialists are very important to achieving our goal of ending dental disease in children. An estimated 17 million low income children in the United States go without oral health care each year—that’s about one out of every five children. 

Outreach workers help figure out why that happens. It might be because the families don’t know they should seek dental care for the children. It could be because the caregivers don’t know where to find a dentist. And it could be that the parents simply fear going to the dentist and share that fear with their kids. Outreach workers calm fears, educate and guide caregivers, and help them navigate the complexities of our health care system. They introduce families to preventive services, and even check back to be sure treatments that are initiated get completed.

And it’s not just for children. Regular screenings and preventive education for people of all ages reduce poor health outcomes and health expenditures. Outreach specialists help adults understand systemic health – what smoking does to the body or how managing mouth disease helps control diabetes and heart disease, for instance. It’s the trusting relationship with the community that enables outreach specialists to cross the cultural divide and get people involved in disease prevention and wellness. This is a critical role, especially where language, transportation and cultural responses are barriers to health.

National Minority Health Month - with this year's theme of health equity - is an opportunity to acknowledge the dedicated work of our promotores / outreach specialists and to give thanks for their genuine servicio de corazon (service from the heart).

Thank you for all you do to advance health equity nationwide!

*Promotores de salud, also known as promotoras, is Spanish for “community health worker.”