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Joining forces to improve the oral health and wellness of older adults

Laura Marcus’ grandmother lived with a lot of health conditions and smoked for 50 years, which impacted her oral health. “She was a wonderful, loving presence in my life and sadly, she wasn’t able to age with dignity because she was embarrassed by her smile,” said Marcus, chief executive officer for Dientes Community Dental Care, a Delta Dental Senior Oral Health Program coalition member. “We see people in these situations every day. The fact that we can help them feels like a gift I am passing along to my grandmother.”

Regrettably, many have personal stories similar to Marcus’ that motivate their passion to improve the oral health and wellness of seniors. We know from reports by the National Institutes of Health and other advocacy groups that adults aged 65-plus, especially those of color, are the most critically underserved and vulnerable population for oral health care in America. But when allies such as Marcus, Dientes Community Dental Care and other health care organizations collaborate, their efforts can have powerful and life-changing effects.

To address the senior oral health crisis, the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation’s Senior Oral Health Coalition Program promotes the connection between oral health and overall health, improves access to care and creates greater equity in the care and treatment older adults receive.

In March 2023, the Community Care Foundation gathered representatives from its inaugural Washington, D.C. coalition partners, Howard University College of Dentistry and Mary’s Center, and  new California coalition partners, Dientes Community Dental Care and Salud Para La Gente, to host its first Senior Oral Health Coalition Program summit.

Along with members of the Community Care Foundation, attendees navigated a packed agenda over the summit’s three days, which included program visioning sessions, discussions about lessons learned and planning for 2023 and beyond.

The partners also defined these program priorities for 2023:

  • Increase the provision of equitable, comprehensive oral health care for all seniors
  • Identify effective ways to refer patients and do joint outreach and marketing for senior oral health services
  • Build a skilled oral health workforce to manage the needs of the growing at-risk senior population
  • Advocate for policy change to increase access to oral health for all seniors

At the conclusion of the summit, we asked our partners what word or phrase they would use to describe how they feel about the Senior Oral Health Coalition Program and what they are looking forward to accomplishing. Here’s what they said:

  • Dignity for seniors
  • Conviction to do what’s right and provide care to our seniors
  • Health and a brighter future for seniors
  • Collective impact by using our strengths to collaborate
  • Passion to create change for our seniors

The value in bringing our partners together was not just about collaboration but in creating a sense of shared purpose and laying the groundwork for a program that will outlast the collective efforts of the coalition. Doing so will serve our ultimate goal: building a better, healthier world for older adults in which they can age with dignity and be thriving members of our communities.