Wednesday, June 24, 2015

DentaQuest Foundation goes local with its grassroots engagement strategy

By Ralph Fuccillo, President of the DentaQuest Foundation

Health outcomes have improved vastly over the past few years for many Americans, especially when it comes to infant mortality and life expectancy. However, significant health inequities still persist in this country and oral health is no exception.

According to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, more than 50 million Americans are living in areas with insufficient dental care.Tooth decay is still the most common childhood disease. Good oral health is the gateway to a person’s overall health and wellness, so without access to care or education, preventable ailments like dental caries and gum disease can build up to become more painful and costly than necessary.

In 2015, it’s unacceptable that these inequities exist, and that people are suffering from diseases that are preventable. That’s why the DentaQuest Foundation, along with our ever-growing network of grantees and partners, has made it our mission to reach the people who do not have access to regular care due to their race, age, income, language, health literacy and geographic location. We believe everyone should have the same opportunity to live a healthy life, and with nearly 83 million people in the United States facing dental care barriers, we still have a lot of work to do. 

To drive our mission forward, we recently launched the Grassroots Engagement Strategy, a grant-making initiative supporting local, community based organizations. This initiative supports our Oral Health 2020 goal of changing the public perception of oral health - helping people realize that dental pain, tooth loss and restoration don’t have to be facts of life or just an accepted part of getting older.

We’re working to create a new social norm where people can expect oral health. If we want to #expectoralhealth, the changes we need must be driven by those most impacted when the existing systems fail. Earlier this year, we selected 20 community-based organizations in six states including Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Virginia, to receive two $50,000 grants over the next year. The grantee organizations range from direct service providers to civic engagement and advocacy organizations, all of which are already active in promoting health equity and the pursuit of social justice for a diverse number of populations. The grants will fund these organizations to analyze the oral health landscape in their communities, enact a plan to engage stakeholders on a local level, and ultimately improve oral health in the places where they live and work.

Network development is key to all of our grantmaking initiatives. The Grassroots Engagement Strategy now gives local change agents the opportunity to have their voices heard amongst the our growing network of state, regional and national partners. Organizations at all levels of the network - from grassroots to grasstops - will be able to learn from each other what is needed to enhance oral health, share best practices and work collaboratively to bring about significant change in oral health financing, care, community and policy systems. 

It is our hope that by working with organizations we will be able to make significant leaps in our quest to achieve oral health equity for all and meet the Oral Health 2020 goals. We’ll be sure to keep you posted and provide updates on the initiative’s progress! In the meantime, follow us on Twitter (@OralHealth2020) and like our Facebook page. Visit for more information.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Who's Making a Difference in Oral Health?

When you think about major improvements that have occurred in your local community, they are often due to the innovative actions and tireless dedication of key individuals. Can you think of a local leader working to improve your community? We can.

As we work across the nation to improve oral health care, access and education, we have seen outstanding leaders in local communities who are making significant strides in improving the oral health of all.

With that in mind, this year we established the DentaQuest Health Equity Hero Awards to celebrate the efforts of leaders who are working tirelessly to address health equity and providing vital care to underserved communities. This year, we recognized seven people for their work.

We’d like to tell you a little more about these outstanding heroes, why they were selected and what they are doing for their communities:

  • Kevin Earle, M.B.A., M.P.H. is the executive director of the Arizona Dental Association in Phoenix, Ariz. Earle is the one of the principal organizers and supporters of the Arizona American Indian Oral Health Initiative. He is working with tribal leaders to raise awareness of oral health and bring it to the forefront of policy discussions within the community and at the state level. Earle is also a leading advocate and voice for the restoration of Medicaid dental benefits for adults in Arizona.
  • Ana Palomo-Zerfas is a migrant health and community engagement program manager for the Vista Community Clinic in San Diego, Calif. In this role, she leads the clinic’s efforts to help migrant workers in San Diego County overcome cultural and linguistic barriers that make it hard for them to get health and dental care. This outreach and advocacy work connects more than 5,700 migrant workers and their families to care every year.
  •  At the University of Louisville, David L. Dunn, M.D., Ph.D. is the executive vice president for health affairs. Dr. Dunn, a highly-respected transplant surgeon, has been a leading advocate for coupling dental and medical coverage to ensure enhanced overall health. Throughout his career, Dr. Dunn has pushed for innovative care delivery systems. As a health care leader in Kentucky, he strives to make quality dental care affordable for underserved communities.
  • As a program manager for Prince George’s County Health Department, Debony Hughes, D.D.S, F.I.C.D., works with the dental health program to better serve Maryland residents. Not only is Dr. Hughes an important voice for oral health throughout Prince George’s County, she is also responsible for the operation of the Deamonte Driver Mobile Unit, which provides education and dental treatments to 20 Title I schools and to Head Start programs, serving more than 10,000 students in Prince George’s County. This school-based care is leading to better oral health outcomes for children and their families. 
  • Rucha Kavathe, Ph.D. is a project manager for the community education and empowerment directorate at UNITED SIKHS, a United Nations-affiliated civil and human rights organization, in New York, N.Y. Dr. Kavathe is a strong advocate for health equity and social justice at UNITED SIKHS and is addressing the health challenges immigrants face as they adjust to their new surroundings, particularly when it comes to navigating the U.S. healthcare system. UNITED SIKHS is making progress within its community to reduce chronic disease and improve oral health.
  • Cherae Farmer-Dixon, D.D.S., M.S.P.H., F.A.C.D. is a dean and professor at Meharry Medical College – School of Dentistry based in Nashville, Tenn. Dr. Farmer-Dixon has been training dentists who aim to serve high-need urban and rural communities for the past 25 years. She also leads research on oral health disparities, the impact of dental disease on low-income children, and inter-professional community outreach and interventions.
  •  At the AIDS Interfaith Network’s (AIN) Manos Unidas, Edgar Carmona serves as the associate executive director. Carmona coordinates the Binational Health Week in North Texas, a health mobilization effort serving the Americas. He is working to educate Spanish-speaking residents on the importance of oral health, and the ways they can access dental programs and services.

The selection of our 2015 Health Equity Heroes coincides with National Minority Health Month, an effort led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health to advance health equity for racial and ethnic minorities. With that in mind, along with their award, our 2015 Health Equity Heroes also will receive a donation from our Citizenship Fund toward a non-profit of their choice that is committed to promoting health equity. DentaQuest is proud to award these heroes for their incredible work! 

Monday, June 8, 2015

My first 60 days as CEO

By Steve Pollock, President and Chief Executive Officer

I have always been committed to the mission of our organization – to improve the oral health of all. Since taking the helm at DentaQuest, I’ve spent the last two months traveling the country and hearing firsthand what our mission means to our employees, community and business partners, and state leaders. I will draw on the themes I heard throughout my time on the road to fully inform DentaQuest’s path forward:

Our employees are our strongest asset. I find myself saying this over and over again. And, during my first two months, I continue to be inspired by the passion DentaQuest employees have for the work they do and the people they serve. My commitment is to continue to fuel the passion of our employees and identify ways to strengthen our connection to the mission and each other.

Partnerships are essential. We cannot be successful without strong community, government and business partnerships. I take pride in the fact that the DentaQuest family of affiliates is thought of as a strong and collaborative partner. Whether it is engaging at the grassroots level in a community, talking to providers about opportunities for  telehealth, or collaborating with national health plans on new and innovative approaches to medical-dental integration, partnerships are necessary to improve the oral health of all. Having a strong network of collaborators strengthens the work we do, the clients we serve and the members we support.

Policymakers are looking to industry for innovative solutions. Our leaders in government are looking to industry experts to help inform policy decisions. The healthcare environment is ripe for data-driven, cost-effective solutions that achieve “The Triple Aim” of improved health for the population, better experience of care and lower per capita cost of care. DentaQuest, in collaboration with our partners, can serve a key role in ensuring that government policy supports the goal of improving the oral health of all.

Our organization has an incredible responsibility to the 23 million people we serve across the country yet I am equally aware of the 83 million people in our country who do not have access to oral care.
It is all of these people who drive our collective agenda and our commitment to health equity. They drive the work of the DentaQuest Foundation, and the incredible grassroots and grasstops network it helps foster. Their needs motivate the DentaQuest Institute in developing new approaches to the management – and elimination – of dental disease. They are what drive the DentaQuest Care Group to open dental clinics in chronically-underserved areas in the United States.

As I look to the future, I see great opportunity for DentaQuest to drive positive social impact. Our mission – to improve the oral health of all – remains the centerpiece of our work and we will continue to measure our success against it.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

So, is fixed- what’s next?

By: Dan Sheehan, SVP and CIO, DentaQuest

Earlier this month, Optum, the contractor with the task of fixing the well-publicized IT glitches on, announced that its job was complete, the website is improved and consumers are able to more easily access the benefits they need. This is a big moment, not only for the Obama Administration and IT gurus everywhere, but also for the healthcare community as a whole.

By ensuring that is a more accessible and reliable outlet for millions of Americans to review and select their healthcare benefits, all involved have brought coverage to those who need it most. While this is an exciting and important moment, we cannot let this success overshadow the continued work that must be done.

Now that the major functions of are working well, government officials and their consultants must turn their attention to making the most effective tool that it can be for consumers.

Specifically, when it comes to dental benefits and, we still need to eliminate technological barriers for consumers seeking coverage. should:

·         Allow consumers to shop for and purchase a stand-alone dental plan regardless of whether they also purchase a medical plan.

Right now, a consumer can only access stand-alone dental plans when purchasing medical coverage. This limits crucial access to dental coverage and care for people who may already have medical benefits through an employer or other government-sponsored program like Medicare.

·         Develop support tools that will help consumers make the best decisions about the level of coverage they need for their families.

This could be as simple as including more educational information about dental coverage and the importance of dental care on, to help consumers make the most informed choices about their coverage options. But it could also include the development of interactive tools that allow consumers to input information about their dental needs and get recommendations on coverage options based on what they need.

While many of these fixes will certainly require time, resources and brainpower, they are crucial steps to achieve access and improve By addressing these issues, the administrators of will help remove some of the barriers that 83 million Americans face today when it comes to receiving the dental care they need.

At DentaQuest, enabling access by eliminating barriers to care is a part of our work every day, as we continue to prioritize oral health for all Americans. Tools like the new-and-improved will help us reach that goal, improve access and provide care.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

CHIP Passes – But There’s Still More To Be Done

By Steve Pollock, President and Chief Executive Officer
On April 14, Congress passed a bill which will ensure that eight million children across the country have continued access to health insurance by extending funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, for two more years. Just a few days later, President Obama signed the bill into law. The CHIP program has been a critical source of health coverage for children and pregnant women who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to purchase private health insurance. Without passage of this bill, CHIP funding would have expired in September, leaving millions of children and hundreds of thousands of pregnant women without access to comprehensive dental care.
Since its inception in 1997, CHIP has helped children receive routine dental care that they may not otherwise have had access to. To help illustrate its success, a report issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that 80 percent of CHIP enrollees saw a dentist in the past year, a significantly higher rate of access and use of services than for children who do not have coverage.
Congress has done a commendable job of recognizing the need for continued funding to support children’s health insurance by passing bipartisan legislation to secure its future. This is no small feat. Health equity advocates around the country are breathing a sigh of relief knowing that the health and well-being of our children took precedence over party politics. However, for dental care, we know the battle is not yet over.
Did you know that 83 million Americans still face obstacles in receiving dental care each year? Nearly half of all individuals in a 2013 survey said that over the previous 12 months they or a family member delayed seeing a dentist because they could not afford the expected out-of-pocket costs. Unlike medical insurance, states are not mandated to include adult dental care coverage within Medicaid programs; it is left up to the state to decide.
As a result, many still do not have access to dental benefits. And that hurts families. It is difficult for dentists who treat children with Medicaid or CHIP insurance to turn away parents who have immediate oral health problems but are uninsured. Dental care contributes to a person’s health and well-being over their lifespan – childhood through retirement. Preventive care saves families and taxpayers money by avoiding more costly interventions later on.
Without adult dental benefits for publicly-funded insurance programs, these 83 million Americans will continue to flood emergency rooms for dental issues and contribute to the 164 million work hours missed each year due to oral health problems. And, as recent studies demonstrate, poor oral health may be increasing the cost of treating chronic diseases like diabetes, pre-term pregnancy and heart disease. By ensuring that all have equal access to dental care, we work to improve the lives of millions while reducing healthcare costs.
Congress took a significant bipartisan step to ensure access to dental care for children. Now, state and federal leaders must act to help eliminate barriers for adults so these 83 million Americans can get the care they need to be healthy and stay that way.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

When We Pay for Performance, Prevention is Key

By Steve Pollock, Chief Executive Officer

In the midst of a constantly-evolving climate in health care, one thing is constant: our pursuit of the triple aim. In my last blog post, I discussed how ancillary benefits can achieve the goals of the triple aim: to improve population health, advance quality of care and reduce long-term costs. Here, I’ll discuss another way payers and providers can solve this puzzle -- through pay-for-prevention programs.

Pay-for-performance programs encourage providers to keep their patients healthier through financial incentives. A national survey found that 52 percent of health maintenance organizations (HMOs) have implemented some form of pay-for-performance already. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act includes a number of provisions that encourage this goal of controlling costs while increasing health outcomes. We’re finding that this means we need to do more than reactive care.

Preventive care is the solution across the board, be it medical or dental services. Oral disease is preventable, not inevitable. Treating cavities is much more costly – to the patient, the provider and the payer – than providing the initial services that could have prevented the cavity in the first place.

Working with our health plan partners, DentaQuest has found a way to weave in a pay-for-performance program that has been successful through our PreventistrySM initiative. In one program, we saw an increase in the number of higher-risk children who received fluoride treatments by 30 percent after just 12 months.

As our health care needs change, we are adapting to ensure our members stay healthy and receive the treatment they need – when they need it.  We are looking for opportunities to shift our focus to treating preventable health issues before they emerge, rather than waiting until patients come to providers after issues arise.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tips for Tots: Set Your Kids Up for Healthy Teeth

By Dr. John Luther, Chief Dental Officer, DentaQuest

Whether it’s changing diapers or taking the kids to soccer practice, parents of children of all ages have ample responsibility to keep their children happy and healthy. Even from an early age, this duty includes promoting good oral health to ensure their kids have healthy smiles for a lifetime.

Current research shows that just over half of children between the ages of six and 11, and 28 percent of preschoolers have tooth decay. Some might say, “It’s okay to have cavities as a child – they’ll lose those teeth anyway.” But, in reality, these statistics are a serious issue. Contrary to what many believe, getting cavities is NOT an inevitable part of growing up.  Dental disease (cavities and gum disease) are nearly 100% preventable. Kids who have cavities grow up to be adults with tooth decay, and that can lead to other serious and costly health problems later on.
Luckily for busy parents, here are a few easy, preventive habits that can help your children maintain good oral health:

Head to the dentist when first tooth emerges
Connecting your child to a dental home, or an ongoing relationship with a dental care provider, from the moment the first tooth comes in is essential to long-term oral health. From the first visit onward, make sure to schedule dental check-ups every six months. You’ll learn the dos and don’ts about taking care of your child’s teeth at home. Also, during these initial preventive visits, a dentist can help make sure your child’s teeth and gums are in optimal condition for permanent teeth to come in.

Before teeth, use a washcloth
While you’re waiting for your baby’s teeth to grow in, get prepared by gently cleaning the gums twice a day with a wet washcloth. When the baby teeth do come in, keep up the routine so the teeth stay strong and healthy, and the mouth will be free of cavity-causing bacteria from the start. The lower teeth typically appear after eight months, followed by the upper front teeth at 10 months and molars at 26 months.

Choose healthy snacks
In moderation, fruits are healthy alternatives to other snacks with added sugars – however, not all fruits are the same. While firm fruits like apples and pears can help keep plaque off the teeth, bananas and raisins are chewy, sticky and full of sugar that can stick to your teeth. Granola bars, another deceivingly unhealthy snack, are packed with sugar. So, when you give your child a mid-day snack, think about nuts or seeds instead which help rebuild tooth enamel. If your child is very young, it’s a good idea to check with your pediatrician about peanuts.

Avoid surprisingly sugary drinks
Apple juice and milk are classic childhood drinks, but when provided in excess or at the wrong time, these drinks could promote tooth decay. Watering down juices to a mixture of ¼ juice and ¾ water can drastically cut your child’s sugar intake. If it’s a drink before bed, be sure to stick to water – not milk – as the sugars linger in your child’s mouth overnight, feeding bacteria that cause cavities. After any sugary drinks or snacks, rinse your child’s mouth with water and be sure to brush before bed.