Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Legacy in Health Care

At DentaQuest, we are motivated by the premise that oral health is a social justice issue, a motivation elevated as we recognize one of the most pivotal figures in American history, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  

It seems like mere words are not enough to appropriately honor Dr. King’s passion and sacrifice in his fight for equality and acceptance for communities of color, and more broadly, for all Americans - simply, his work was nothing short of transformative. 

In one of his most well-known writings, “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King wrote:
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Now, let’s look at just how oral health is a social justice issue. It’s unjust that people in our country live without good oral health, whether the barrier they face is that there are not enough dentists practicing in their area, they cannot get insurance coverage for dental services, the cost of necessary care is just too high, and even worse, if the barrier is based on discrimination of any kind. 

This sentiment that oral health is a right, not a privilege, is reflected in our mission: to improve the oral health of all.

At the DentaQuest Foundation, we’re funding and working with groups across the country to work to improve oral health for all people across the lifespan. This includes directly addressing the disparities we see in the oral health status of communities of color, since data shows that across the country, both children and adults of color experience dental disease at a much higher rate. 

We also know that improving oral health equity for these communities takes commitment from many stakeholders.

Our network partners at the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN) are working to address oral health disparities in their state by empowering communities of color to build a united and powerful voice in health advocacy. 

The foundation supported CPEHN’s recent publication of a brief on promoting equitable oral health policies for communities of color. The brief examines the causes and impact of oral health inequities on communities of color, and provides recommendations to help children and families live healthier lives. The brief addresses:

·         Improved access to and the quality of dental care

o   This means expanded dental benefits for low-income adults, higher reimbursements for dental providers, better integration of oral health into primary care, improved education and outreach on how to use insurance benefits, and improved data collection to identify and analyze oral health inequities by not just race and ethnicity, but also sexual orientation, gender identity, and language. 

·         Developing a culturally competent workforce

o   Programs should be developed to train, recruit, and retain people of color in the oral health fields. Other programs should ensure communities of color can access culturally and linguistically appropriate care. This means that beyond making translation and interpretation services available, providers also give care that bring an understanding and acknowledgement of these communities’ backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs.

In addition to addressing these issues, CPEHN also recommends supporting efforts to improve the other socioeconomic factors that contribute to poor oral health, including ways to promote sustainable career development and improve unhealthy food and environmental conditions.

We’re proud to be partners with CPEHN, and with the many other programs working collectively across the country working to promote just and fair access to oral health, for all.