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The Pajaronian: $5M grant boosts senior oral healthcare in Santa Cruz County

Photo credit: Tarmo Hannula

The Pajaronian – Santa Cruz County-based healthcare providers Dientes and Salud Para la Gente recently received a $5 million grant from the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation.

The organizations were added to the [Community Care] Foundation’s Senior Oral Health Coalition Program, which was launched in 2022 to address the oral health crisis among older adults in the U.S. The new California partners join existing Washington, D.C. coalition members, Howard University College of Dentistry and Mary’s Center, to promote the connection between oral health and overall health, improve access and create greater equity in the care and treatment older adults receive.

The National Institutes of Health cited adults, 65 years and older, as the most critically underserved for oral health care in the U.S. A recent survey commissioned by Delta Dental further underscores this health crisis and found that 80% of older American adults do not get to the dentist as often as recommended, with access being one of the main barriers. The number is even lower in Santa Cruz County, which Dientes and Salud serve, where a 2022 oral health needs assessment revealed that only one in four seniors with Medicaid were able to get the dental care they needed.

“With a growing senior population across the country and in the communities we serve in Santa Cruz County, access to quality and affordable dental care for a diverse population of low-income seniors is an important part of our mission to provide dignity through dentistry,” Dientes CEO Laura Marcus said. “This partnership with the Community Care Foundation and our colleague in health, Salud, will create a model that other communities can use to expand access to dental care for our seniors so they count their lives by smiles, not by tears."

As members of the Senior Oral Health Coalition Program and co-founders of Santa Cruz County’s Oral Health Access coalition, Dientes and Salud will work with the Community Care Foundation to establish programs that focus on improving health equity and the oral health of older adults, particularly those of color.

“We are thrilled the Community Care Foundation has provided Salud and Dientes with generous funding to support our Senior Oral Health Coalition Program, which will go a long way to expand our work to ensure seniors in our region can access the oral care they badly need,” Salud CEO Dori Rose Inda said. “We intend to decrease the disparities and barriers seniors face in receiving oral health care by keeping equity at the center of our work. With this significant grant, and in partnership with Dientes, we are eager to ensure all seniors have access to the quality dental care they deserve and need to live healthy lives.”

Read the original press release here.