By Vivian Vasallo, Executive Director of the Delta Dental Institute
Continuing our commitment
A new year represents a new beginning and with it, hope and resolutions. This year, perhaps more than any other, we look ahead with a greater sense of resolve and purpose after a uniquely challenging 2020. At the Delta Dental Institute, we are hopeful for a better 2021 and look forward to continuing our commitment to advancing the cause of oral health so more Americans can live their healthiest lives.
Over the coming year, we will continue to focus our research, community, and advocacy efforts on some of the most pressing oral health issues of our time, including reducing disparities in oral health outcomes and improving oral health literacy, especially for underserved populations. I'm excited to share this preview of some of our specific priorities and activities for 2021.
Data-driven research is imperative to our ongoing work to advance the cause of oral health. Building on our white paper, Improving America's Oral Health Literacy, and our public opinion surveys on attitudes toward oral health, our goal this year is to grow our research contributions and to serve as both a resource for analysis and a springboard for action. Our 2021 agenda will align with our overall priorities: reducing disparities in oral health outcomes, improving oral health literacy with a focus on underserved populations, and improving access to oral health care. We will advance our research agenda through partnerships with academic institutions, the commissioning of white papers, and by amplifying the research and expert voices from the Delta Dental companies.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been working tirelessly to assist our communities, with the Delta Dental companies' combined COVID-19 relief efforts expected to soon reach $1.1 billion. That said, while the year has changed, the challenges related to COVID-19 and health disparities remain, and Delta Dental will continue to be there supporting our communities in a variety of ways; from targeted pandemic response, to longstanding programs that provide vital oral health care to underserved communities. Additionally, the Institute will be working closely with the Delta Dental companies and their foundations on ways to enhance their collective impact, including by launching a pilot program to measure outcomes based on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Healthy People 2030 oral health objectives.
While oral health care continues to be a priority for Americans, with 91% believing taking care of their oral health now will help prevent other health problems later, a recent Delta Dental Institute analysis found that the federal government doesn't adequately prioritize it. Our review of federal agency staffing between 2012 and 2020 found that only two federal agencies had a chief dental officer or equivalent at any point. In contrast, eight federal agencies had a chief medical officer or equivalent during that time. This gap leaves agencies without the leadership needed to implement oral health policies Americans support, such as legislation at the federal level that expands dental benefits for children (87% of Americans support) or that includes dental benefits in programs like Medicare and Medicaid (89% of Americans support).
To bring attention to this important issue, we recently launched a campaign calling for oral health experts to be installed in positions of federal government leadership. We will continue to champion this effort in 2021 as the new administration begins its work.
Join us on this journey
I am proud of the Delta Dental Institute's 2020 accomplishments: producing important research, serving our communities, and sharing critical oral health information during the pandemic. As I look ahead to the new year already underway, I'm even more dedicated to the Delta Dental Institute's mission to advance oral health care for all Americans. The work to reduce disparities in oral health outcomes, improve oral health literacy with a focus on underserved populations, and increase access to oral health care is more necessary than ever. I invite you to join us on this journey and look resolutely forward to a productive and rewarding year.