In National Minority Health Month, Oral Health for All.
By: Ralph Fuccillo, DentaQuest Chief Mission Officer; Co-chair, Health Equity Council for Region 1
We, as a nation, are committed to principles of fairness, diversity and inclusion. Those principles guide our commitment to reject discrimination or harassment.
As a leading oral health enterprise, DentaQuest strives to honor the differences among people, especially cultural and linguistic differences, in all our interactions. When we celebrate differences, we provide better dental benefits management for all our clients, we provide more effective resources to our community-focused work of our Foundation, and we improve the clinical care of people wherever our Institute’s programs are implemented. DentaQuest’s mission explicitly states we are focused on improving the oral health of ALL. In the business of oral health, it is hard to miss the fact that not everyone is included in ALL.
Recognizing that there are disparities in health care is critical to understanding how compelling our mission really is. Think for a minute – should any child be relegated to a troubled life based on his or her lack of connection to health care? Yet some, mostly children in communities of color and especially those who are poor, bear a greater burden of oral disease throughout their entire lives. Health disparities make it certain that those who already carry heavy life burdens will also suffer with persistent mouth pain, diminished economic opportunities, and diminished overall life expectancy.
That is why we applaud the National Office of Minority Health as they launch an online oral health curriculum that provides guidance on delivering culturally and linguistically appropriate services to better meet the needs of our increasingly diverse communities. It will be an important resource for health professionals across the clinical care spectrum and a helpful addition to the work of other groups, such as the National Interprofessional Initiative on Oral Health whose “Smiles for Life” Curriculum has been endorsed by multiple clinical care professions, and also the DentaQuest Institute’s Online Learning Center where learning modules emphasize oral disease prevention and management.
The Oral Health 2020 campaign that the DentaQuest Foundation announced earlier this year echoes the voices of people in communities who challenge all of us to “raise the bar and close the gap” in oral health inequality. The Oral Health 2020 goal that intends to have 75% of all children reach age 5 without a cavity by 2020 doesn’t seem like much of a stretch: 70% of children across the U.S. already reach age 5 without a cavity. As we dig deeper and look into what those numbers tell us, we find that differences across socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity, make that 70% threshold less reliable. We have to consider everyone – All.
We can all get behind the Oral Health 2020 campaign goals by better understanding the data and determining where disparities are greatest. We continuously promote awareness and understanding of how culturally competent literacy programs can advance the work of everyone as we focus on the importance of oral health in itself and to overall health. We are seeking out culturally and linguistically focused community partners to work with us to reach communities where disparities persist, and collectively, we are developing strategies that will bring all children to our target goal.
We hope that 75% of ALL children reach age 5 without a cavity by 2020. Let’s close the gap and create a country where we are proud to claim that there is equity in oral health, as we work to prevent disease and make access to care more available for those who need it.