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Santa Cruz Sentinel: Dientes, Salud Para La Gente celebrate $5M program investment

Santa Cruz Sentinel – As seniors continue to experience an oral health crisis at local and national levels, dental care organizations in Santa Cruz County scored a grant funding win that will support efforts to reverse the troubling trend.

Dientes Community Dental and Salud Para La Gente recently received a $5 million, five-year grant from insurance provider Delta Dental’s Community Care Foundation as part of its [Senior] Oral Health Coalition Program, making them the only California-based organizations to participate in the program since its inception in 2022.

Delta Dental representatives came to Santa Cruz this past week to meet with leadership from the two community health organizations, tour their facilities in Live Oak and Watsonville and hear more about investment impacts.

“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,” said Dientes CEO Laura Marcus in a release. “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.”

According to a 2021 report by the National Institutes of Health, adults aged 65 years and older were the most critically underserved when it came to oral health care across the U.S. A separate survey commissioned by Delta Dental revealed 80% of older American adults do not get to the dentist as often as recommended with access being listed as a significant barrier.

These trends are mirrored in Santa Cruz County and detailed in the 2022 Oral Health Need Assessment commissioned by Dientes. According to the report, 75% of adult county residents with Medi-Cal were unable to receive dental care. Of the 82,000 Medi-Cal beneficiaries in the county included in survey data, only about 31,000 or 38% could go to the dentist.

Salud Para La Gente CEO Dori Rose Inda said in the release that the grant funding would help the oral health provider expand its work in the community. “We intend to decrease the disparities and barriers seniors face in receiving oral health care by keeping equity at the center of our work,” said Inda in the release. “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.”

Delta Dental [of California] Vice President of Foundation and Corporate Social Responsibility Kenzie Ferguson said the expansion into California builds on momentum from the program’s inaugural awards provided to the Howard University College of Dentistry and Mary’s Center in Washington, D.C.

Since the 2022 investment, the two programs have collectively provided almost 900 older adults with quality and affordable oral health services and managed 4,250 dental treatment encounters including 532 restorative procedures, 207 oral surgeries and have supplied 133 sets of prosthodontics, according to the release.

“We are excited to see the ways in which Dientes and Salud will bring similar benefit to the oral health of older adults throughout Santa Cruz County,” said Ferguson in the release.

Coalition program goals include assessing and addressing socioeconomic and systemic causes of poor oral health among older adults and especially among those living in poverty, creating a replicable model for community-driven oral health solutions and improving quality of life for seniors by reducing oral care disparities.

Delta Dental plans to expand the program to other communities and establish more partnerships in the next three to five years.

Read the original press release here.