Knowledge is Power: The Alliance, Oral Health Literacy and Health Equity
By Ralph Fuccillo,
President DentaQuest Foundation,
Founding Board Member, U.S. National Oral Health Alliance
The U.S. National Oral Health Alliance completed its Third Leadership Colloquium this June 6 and 7 in San Francisco. The conversations focused on the area of Oral Health Literacy as a pathway to health equity.
It was a little over one year ago that the Alliance was launched as a new nonprofit focused on a new way of collaborating to engage people to learn and listen together. One year and three leadership colloquia later, the Alliance is becoming the platform its founding board envisioned -- engaging diverse stakeholders from across the U.S., finding common ground through respectful dialogue that makes it possible to identify opportunities to create solutions together for improved oral health for vulnerable populations across the United States. The Alliance has set a wonderful table. It is logical and thoughtful and it happens because we work together.
Over 120 professionals from many backgrounds participated in San Francisco. We heard memorable contributions on oral health literacy from individuals at the forefront of oral health care delivery, education, marketing, and policy development, including Dr. Francisco Ramos Gomez of UCLA School of Dentistry and the Native American Health Center; Karina Alcala, Pediatric Dental Project Manager at the Native American Health Center; Alison Cusick, Program Manager at Washington Dental Service Foundation; Dr. Man Wai Ng, of Children’s Hospital Boston and the Early Childhood Caries Collaborative; Carrie Gordon, Vice President of Government Affairs for the California Dental Association; Captain Arlene M. Lester, DDS of the Office of Minority Health, Region IV, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and Gary Price President and CEO of the Dental Trade Alliance.
Alice Horowitz, PhD, from the University of Maryland School of Public Health, one of the founders of the health literacy movement, started the meeting with a challenge: our efforts to increase quality, reduce costs and disparities, and promote health equity will not succeed unless we also include science-based oral health education appropriate to the understanding and languages of vulnerable groups. “We know how to prevent cavities with fluoride and sealants; we must use patient-centered prevention and risk-based management,” she said.
Dr. David Resnick, CEO of HIVDent and Director of Oral Health for Grady Health Services in Atlanta reflected on his life experiences at the forefront of treating patients with HIV/AIDS. The challenges of oral health literacy are often bigger than anyone in the room, but we must remember to meet people where they are, he said. David framed health literacy as a multi-dimensional concept that demands we use our minds, hearts, eyes and ears, as well as medical/dental and psychosocial knowledge. How does one communicate an oral health message to people who have so many serious issues going on in their lives? Knowledge is Power. We have to find opportunities to increase the understanding of those we serve. We can reach out with knowledge and kindness and that does make the world a better place for them.
Reflecting on their experiences around health literacy, participants at this Third Leadership Colloquium discussed what it will take to lay the groundwork in any community for health literacy, to prevent future pain and unnecessary suffering. The group then broadened its view and looked at the nation and what it will take to move the nation forward.
Unifying messages were developed at the conclusion of this Colloquium. They are being published in a colloquium summary that will be posted to the Alliance website (www.USAllianceforOralHealth.org) by the end of summer and will also be offered as a foundation for developing a national oral health plan.