Meet Lolinda Turner, dental workforce diversity & inclusion program manager at Delta Dental of Washington (DDWA). When she was a practicing registered dental assistant, Turner says that she “didn’t see a lot of other dental professionals who looked like me.” Three years ago, in her current role, Lolinda channeled her skills, experience, and passion for introducing historically underrepresented groups to careers in oral health care and developed the Delta Dental Professional Pathways Program. This year alone, she introduced more than 800 Washington high school students to oral health care professions through the program.
In May 2023, Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation (DDCOF) sent two staff and one community partner to participate in a DDWA training of trainers event, to pilot the Dental Professional Pathways Program (DPPP) in Northeast Denver and the San Luis Valley. The goal is to introduce students from historically underrepresented groups including students of color and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered + (LGBTQ+) populations to oral health care professions.
Former DDCOF workforce program officer Mirella Chavez identified Northeast Denver and the San Luis Valley as regions in which to pilot DPPP. People who live in these regions experience major barriers to accessing oral health care, with the San Luis Valley’s sole Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) reporting fully booked dental appointments for all of 2023. In addition, Chavez recognized the rich network of regional partners and organizations with which to grow DPPP as well as an opportunity to gather valuable insights on the implementation of DPPP in both rural and urban settings.
Currently, 92% of dentists in Colorado are White non-Hispanic. Additionally, 17% of respondents on the 2019 Colorado Health Access Survey reported unfair health treatment due to race or skin color. According to the Colorado Health Institute, Black and Hispanic patients with providers of the same race are more likely to be satisfied with their health care overall and consistently seek preventive care. These data show illustrate the need to diversify the oral health workforce to achieve better oral health outcomes for all.
Pickens Technical College will implement DPPP in Northeast Denver, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of the San Luis Valley (BGCSLV) will implement this training in the San Luis Valley. Both organizations are currently involved in workforce and place-based DDCOF initiatives and will weave DPPP as part of their overall strategy. Pickens Technical College will introduce a mentoring program for aspiring oral health professionals of color, while BGCSLV will establish an internship and job-shadowing program. For DDCOF staff and community partners as well as for program creator Lolinda Turner, the goal is to empower more students from historically underrepresented groups to pursue careers as dentists, dental therapists, dental hygienists, and dental assistants in Colorado and beyond. Promoting diversity and inclusivity in the oral health care profession promotes a healthy mouth and healthy life for everyone.