This year’s Oral Health Day was a tremendous success!
Oral Health Day 2022 centered the work necessary to create a truly equitable oral health system. Following the theme “Equity in Action,” speakers discussed disparities and the actionable steps we can all take to improve oral health for everyone, from pursuing racial equity to increasing access for individuals with disabilities, and more.
If you missed the event and want to enjoy the full experience, you can find the event recording here.
Dr. Eleanor Fleming’s Keynote Address
Dr. Eleanor Fleming kicked off the first day with rousing remarks on race and racism in oral health, highlighting systemic factors that impact our teeth and the need for antiracist collaboration to overcome barriers to care. Dr. Fleming currently serves as assistant dean of equity, diversity, and inclusion at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry and is a nationwide leader in this work.
Fleming discussed the social determinants of health and the many ways that the world around us can impact our health. Most of her remarks, however, centered around antiracism, tying the need for antiracist effort to the ultimate goal of equity in oral health care.
Fleming identified ways that racism goes beyond hurting individual people or groups to “actually sap the strength of the whole society.” She said that we all have skin in the game when it comes to actively challenging racism at the personal, structural, and systemic levels.
After Fleming’s keynote address, Dr. Lewis Lampiris, associate adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina Adams School of Dentistry, moderated a lively panel discussion that included representatives from community, insurance, philanthropy, academia, and more.
Marie Helms, a mother of two, kicked off the panel talking about her experience finding oral health care for her daughter, who was diagnosed with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy at 6 months old.
Panelist Rachel Radford followed with examples of hardships her family has experienced finding oral health care for her two children, both of whom have autism.
Radford also talked about her own experience with oral health care. She didn’t see a dentist until she was 22 years old and was made fun of by her first provider for being nervous. She talked about the way this made her feel and how dental anxiety stemming from that incident made it difficult to continue seeking oral health care.
Continuing the conversation, Dr. Amadeo Valdez gave perspectives on equity issues from his roles as an oral health care provider and dental residency program director. Valdez works for the Mountain Area Health Education Center, the AHEC program serving Western North Carolina.
Lampiris asked Curt Ladig, president and CEO of Delta Dental of North Carolina, how private insurers can contribute to equity in oral health care. Ladig explained that his core beliefs center around access for everyone, something he brings to his work as he guides the direction of the insurance company.
Yazmin García Rico, director of Hispanic/Latinx policy and strategy at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, joined the panel discussion to speak from her perspective within government. She talked about the need for a more robust workforce spanning the entire state.
García Rico also talked about diversity among providers as an important priority and mentioned language access as a major need in oral health spaces.
Finally, Dr. Susan Mims spoke from her perspective both as a pediatrician and as the current president and CEO of the Dogwood Health Trust. Dogwood Health Trust funds programs to improve the health and wellbeing of Western North Carolinians, including the Patient Advocate Pilot, an NCOHC-led initiative advancing care coordination and case management for vulnerable populations.
Mims spoke about the opportunities that philanthropic organizations have to advance equity in oral health, especially when it comes to pushing boundaries and trying new things. She also told personal stories from her time as a health care provider, witnessing the toll that poverty takes on people’s health.
Many panelists examined a specific and pressing policy need in North Carolina: Medicaid Expansion.
Radford’s final remarks during the discussion took a personal note. She enrolled in Medicaid coverage during the COVID-19 pandemic, but she and many others stand to lose that coverage unless Medicaid Expansion is passed.
Day Two: Equity in Action
This year’s Oral Health Day was the first to span two days. On the second day, participants from across the United States reconvened to participate in a collaborative workshop, identifying policy solutions to the inequities discussed the day before.
Prior to the workshop portion, NCOHC Director Dr. Zachary Brian kicked off the day with a data-based overview of disparities faced in North Carolina. With that background in mind, attendees split into four groups to discuss current realities and actionable solutions.
The NCOHC team was blown away by the level of engagement during the solutions workshop, and we are hard at work developing a comprehensive “Equity Action Framework” to share publicly. The framework will outline achievable, collaborative solutions to the problems facing communities across North Carolina, and will guide NCOHC’s work heading into 2023.
If you would like a copy of the report, make sure to sign up to receive NCOHC emails here.
You can find the full event recording below:
NCOHC, a program of the Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation, works to advance systems-level changes, improving the overall health and well-being of all North Carolinians by increasing access and equity in care. To stay up-to-date and get involved, join us today as a North Carolinian for Change.