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.