A Model of Dental Health

$100,000 Grant, Delta Dental of Arizona Foundation, Helps El Rio Health

By Rodney Campbell

A program that started as a pilot is developing into a model for health clinics that want to provide better dental care for children in underserved families.

In January 2020, El Rio Health received a two-year grant for $100,000 from the Delta Dental of Arizona Foundation to place in five of its clinics, a dental hygienist team that provides dental screenings, fluoride varnish treatments and oral-health education. The program will expand to seven clinics next year.

The pilot program started in 2015 in the waiting rooms of El Rio’s pediatric clinics. There, a single dental hygienist would informally talk with parents about the importance of dental health as they waited for their kids’ other medical appointments. 

“We found a lot of parents didn’t understand the connection of oral to medical health,” said Brenda Goldsmith, executive director of the El Rio Foundation. “Whatever we can do to encourage early oral health is a win for children.”

During the visit, the children received a dental screening and pre-fluoride varnish treatment, along with a Delta Dental Smile Bag that included a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss and education materials. The partnership helped provide services to more than 6,000 children last year who otherwise might not have had proper dental care.

“Moving the team into the pediatric clinic as an extension of the visit was a novel idea,” Goldsmith said. “We’re changing the course of many children’s lives. This will hopefully become a model for the country.”

“Dental care is often an afterthought,” said Barb Kozuh, director of community benefit for Delta Dental of Arizona. “We’re trying to figure out how to make oral health important to families. If your mouth is healthy, the rest of your body can be healthier.”

Pairing dental and medical in one visit makes life more convenient for parents and prevents small issues from growing. When the hygienist sees a problem, the patient can be referred to a dentist on site.

“Children don’t speak up when they’re in pain,” Goldsmith said. “They don’t want to worry Mommy and then, all of a sudden, they’re in an emergency room with an abscess that needs surgery. We’re helping families overcome those hurdles.”

Founded in 1997, the Delta Dental of Arizona Foundation is the charitable arm of Delta Dental of Arizona. Its mission is to improve oral health, particularly for underserved and uninsured groups and communities.

Delta Dental provided $1.2 million in support to Arizona nonprofits in 2020. Delta also gave El Rio Health $50,000 for COVID-19 emergency support.

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