Delta Dental Foundation Grants over $500,000 to Increase Access to Oral Healthcare in Arkansas

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By Pamela Acosta

For the people at the Hispanic Center in Jonesboro, the health of their community has been a top priority since the beginning of the pandemic, and now, thanks to the Delta Dental Foundation, their efforts will be able to include dental care.

The Hispanic Center is one of the recipients of the Delta Dental of Arkansas Foundation grant cycle. The foundation provides grants to local organizations working to increase access to oral healthcare in their communities.

In the 2023 grant cycle, the foundation provided a total of $502,973 in funding to 21 different organizations throughout Arkansas. These organizations include charitable dental clinics, which provide care to individuals regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay, as well as other groups that have oral healthcare programs as part of their work.

“If not fully funded by Delta Dental, we would have not been able to start this outreach and education program,” said Gina Gomez, Executive Director of the Hispanic Community Services.

“Funding is really hard to get to Northeast Arkansas and also opportunities and resources for our people, especially for the Hispanic community. But at the same time, we are very blessed to have this organization in Northeast Arkansas that is able to provide services, not just for people in the cities, but rural towns.”

Delta Dental of Arkansas Foundation is under the umbrella of Delta Delta. Each year, the company provides the foundation with a percentage of its profits for its grant program. The grants are specifically earmarked to reach people that are underinsured or not insured. The Foundation then partners with organizations in these communities that can reach those individuals in need of dental healthcare.

“We really try to reach people where they are in their communities, and get them connected to opportunities to see a dentist, certainly connected to opportunities to find long term dental homes, because really, we want people to not only be seeing a dentist as a one off when they’re in pain, but to go for regular checkups, which is that preventative care, because that really will enable them to not have the pain in the future,” said Sharon Lanier, Ph.D., the Interim Executive Director of the foundation,

However, this is no easy task. With an approximate 41% of the state designated as rural, access to oral healthcare is often limited, with some areas being designated as “dental deserts,” where there are no providers who accept Medicaid or no providers at all.

According to Lanier, the organization provides a little over $500,000 in funding to those organizations. Several of them are dental clinics, community dental clinics, and groups that have oral health programmes built into what they do.

The goal of the organization is to reach these “dental deserts” through these partnerships and provide these communities with access and education, a goal that is perfectly aligned with the efforts being made by the Hispanic Center in Jonesboro.

“We knew that having access to health care providers for the Hispanic community was hard. But having access to dental care was even harder,” said Gomez. “See, our people don’t do preventive care. They always wait until they are in such pain to go to the dentist, and in most cases it’s because they don’t have insurance or don’t know they have it.”

The Hispanic Center has started to incorporate dental health education throughout all of its existing programs. They also have on staff a bilingual dentist who has been able to share her experience and provide education in Spanish.

“I think that overall, with the education and the outreach we’re doing, we are creating an impact in improving the health of our community. And at the same time, we’re opening our people’s eyes and mind regarding oral health,” said Gomez.