For many, the words, “increasing access to oral health care,” bring to mind images of free oral health screenings or mobile dental clinics. So, it may be a surprise that Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation (DDCOF) is supporting food justice, wealth building, and promotora work (promotoras are community health workers, residents, and identified leaders within a community who work on community-based health promotion projects) in Northeast Denver and the San Luis Valley as part of the Place-based Oral Health Care Access initiative portfolio.
The goal of the initiative is to “create a community-led, data-driven strategy that supports all individuals having affordable, accessible, and comprehensive oral health care.” To support that goal, DDCOF’s place-based initiative looks through the lens of the social determinants of health. These are the conditions in which people live, work, and play and include things like access to healthy foods, socioeconomic status, and social support networks that promote overall health and well-being, including oral health. The result is investing in partnerships, resources, and solutions with organizations based in and led by the communities they serve. The organizations already have close relationships with people in these communities, including immigrant and unhoused populations that experience some of the greatest barriers to access to oral health care.
The Savings Collaborative, an organization dedicated to making it easier for people left outside mainstream banking to save money and build wealth for future generations, is coming to Aurora. Kat Traylor is a political strategist, leader, and renowned advocate for underserved communities in Aurora. Since 2019, she has worked with Barbara Freeman, CEO of the Savings Collaborative, and a network of partners statewide to create a fairer and more equitable financial system. When Kat and Barbara learned that 10% of people with savings accounts used money from their accounts to pay for emergency dental care, they came to Delta Dental of Colorado to see how their combined resources could help tackle this issue. They are supporting people in creating oral health savings accounts and wealth-building strategies. As part of this initiative, they are developing relationships with regional dental providers to support people in navigating the dental system.
The GrowHaus promotes healthy food access with residents of the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods in Northeast Denver through myriad programs like food boxes, wellness classes, and community outreach and education. Executive Director Giselle Díaz says it seemed like a natural fit to integrate oral health education and navigation into what they are already doing as part of promoting overall health. Director of Food Access and Community Outreach Natalie Espinoza led the development of a community wellness survey, which included several oral health questions to learn about what community members are doing as well as the challenges they face, and is using the information plus community resource mapping to develop “next steps.” The organization is further connecting with local dental providers and DDCOF grant recipients including Tepeyac Community Health Center and Inner City Health Center to learn more about the referral process and build relationships.
Project Protect Food Systems (Frontline Farmers) Regional Promotora Director Zoila Gomez says the network of promotoras in the San Luis Valley already provided local agricultural workers with oral health supplies including toothbrushes, floss, and toothpaste, and helped them navigate where to get dental care. In addition, the network worked closely with other organizations involved in the place-based initiative including Boys & Girls Clubs of the San Luis Valley to provide food for families during the pandemic. She says the network will integrate oral health education more formally with what they do and link to dental providers dedicated to oral health equity in the valley.
We often talk about oral health being part of overall health. For all three organizations in Northeast Denver and the San Luis Valley, oral health is an integrated part of their overall health and wellness goals whether they be wealth building, food justice, or social support networks. A DDCOF partnership supports them in further incorporating oral health into what they do and building relationships, partnerships, and strategies with local and regional organizations to increase access to oral health care and support better oral health outcomes for everyone.