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.”