Massachusetts Health Care And Community Leaders Join The Delta Dental Institute To Examine Barriers To Comprehensive Care

Fifth event in roundtable series to raise oral health's prominence in broader health care conversations


Nov 4, 2019 | Press Release

BOSTON, MA — Last week, Massachusetts health care leaders convened in Boston for the fifth event in the Delta Dental Institute's national roundtable series. The diverse crowd included academics, nonprofit leaders, and business executives, all bringing their perspective on access to comprehensive health care, including oral care, in their state.

Dennis Leonard, president and CEO of Delta Dental of Massachusetts (DDMA), kicked off the conversation with a challenge to the participants to think critically about comprehensive care and what it means for their communities. He shared some of the many ways DDMA promotes preventive and comprehensive health care through oral health care initiatives across Massachusetts, including working with St. Anthony Shrine to build a free dental clinic to provide oral health care for homeless women in Boston.

Much of the discussion centered around the need to expand approaches to oral care accessibility. Many participants, like Dr. Lisa Wolff, vice president of Health Resources in Action, noted that greater availability of oral care does not equate to greater usage of oral care, citing language barriers, limited operating hours, and out-of-the-way office locations. Anh Vu Sawyer, executive director of the Southeast Asian Coalition of Central Massachusetts, recommended health care providers work directly with underserved and low-income populations to create localized solutions that will best serve these communities. Multiple attendees, like Virtudent co-founder John Voith, and Firefly Health founder Dr. Andy Ellner, raised the need to prioritize convenient care to ensure that people actually use these critical services.

Many of the participants noted the important relationship between oral and overall health, but highlighted how the connection needs to be more formally recognized by health care providers. Dr. R. Bruce Donoff, Dean of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, recommended having more training teams led by practitioners with a background in both medical and dental to help reinforce for students how oral health affects overall health. The Delta Dental Institute's Head of Dental Science Dr. Joseph Dill noted that both medical and dental providers need to continue to educate themselves throughout their professional careers about the connection between oral and overall health.

The Delta Dental Institute's series of roundtables will culminate in a capstone event in Washington, D.C. in December. Since launching in June, the Delta Dental Institute has traveled across the country—visiting Denver, CO; Chicago, IL; Nashville, TN; Phoenix, AZ; and now Boston, MA—to hear directly from influential local health care leaders. These discussions about on-the-ground challenges and opportunities will inform the Institute's policy agenda moving forward.

See Axios' coverage of the discussion in Boston here.