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A young girl, sitting in a dentist's chair, smiles and gives a high five to a man in soft focus.

Improving Access to Dental Care in Minnesota

8/14/19 by Edith Gozali-Lee

Our overall health and well-being impacts our ability to live our fullest life. However, oral health (health of the teeth, gums, and the entire oral-facial system that allows us to smile, speak, and chew) is often overlooked and not seen as part of general health. In addition, dental care is not available to everyone. 

In recognition of the importance of oral health, Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation works to increase access to dental care for underserved Minnesotans. Since 2009, the Foundation has been investing in programs and organizations throughout the state to increase their capacity, develop the oral health workforce, and provide prevention and education for good oral health.

Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation hired Wilder Research in 2018 to assess the impact of its grants. The Foundation also wanted to highlight and share interventions and practices that best improve oral health and make a difference.

We interviewed dental providers and experts, reviewed research studies, and reviewed and analyzed the Foundation’s grantee reports and data. Some of the findings from our study show that:

  • Access to dental care remains an issue for some populations in Minnesota, including older adults, people with low incomes, and people living in specific counties.
  • There is no single fix to improving oral health. Multiple risks, alone or cumulatively, can have adverse effects on dental health. Risks include: poverty, lack of insurance, lack of convenient dental care, other health conditions, and bad habits, such as smoking and frequently drinking sugar-sweetened beverages. Dental care providers are using different treatments and approaches that research has found to be effective or promising.
  • Dental providers and field experts stress a need for coordination to improve access to dental care. They encourage integration of dental care with the overall health care systems, partnerships among players in and outside of health care systems, and effective use of collaborative dental hygiene and dental therapist agreements.

Finally, more research on oral health care outcomes is needed. To understand the full value of oral care, we need data on the prevalence of oral disease and the impact of dental health on overall health, quality of life, education, and employment. One important step will be working with community providers to expand existing data collection to capture diagnoses, services, costs, and outcomes.

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