Reflections on 2021

By Vivian Vasallo, Executive Director of the Delta Dental Institute

This year, while the world continued to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, the Delta Dental Institute remained steadfast in its mission to advance the oral and overall health of all Americans through our research, community impact, and advocacy work. As we look ahead to 2022, we'd like to take an opportunity to reflect on a few of the past year's accomplishments and provide a preview of what's on the horizon in the coming year.


Supporting oral health research that leads to actionable solutions is core to DDI's work. This year, we were proud to announce three new awards to researchers at leading academic institutions: the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine, and the University of Iowa. While each research endeavor will explore unique and pressing aspects of oral health care, they will also assess opportunities to create more equitable access to care and reduce health disparities, with a focus on aging populations and historically underserved racial and ethnic communities. We look forward to publishing the Harvard School of Dental Medicine's and the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine's research in 2022.

Tracking public opinion on key oral health topics is another important area of our work. We recently released updated polling that finds, in the second year of the pandemic, more respondents view oral health care as a priority today compared to a year ago, showing that even as the country continues to grapple with the pandemic, respondents continue to rightly value their oral health. In 2022, we will continue to conduct and publish polling on critical oral health topics.


We are deeply committed to serving the oral and overall health of our communities, which span all 50 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico. This year, DDI released our 2020 Community Impact Report, which highlighted the significant investments Delta Dental companies and their foundations made in 2020 to advance oral health, respond to COVID-19, and address health inequities and disparities. We invite you to learn more about how Delta Dental is involved in your community by visiting our Community page.  

The Delta Dental Institute also elevated the voices of academic, industry, and community leaders through our Conversation Series and Expert Voices blogs. In our Conversation Series, we explored a range of topics from driving effective community impact to improving oral health literacy. Our Expert Voices blogs discussed important and timely issues such as advancing health equity and dental-medical collaboration. In the year ahead, we will continue to shine a national spotlight on the needs of our communities by bringing together prominent experts and policy leaders for discussions, authoring thought-provoking blogs, and holding innovative and impactful gatherings.                                         


Moving oral health from the periphery to the center of the broader healthcare conversation is a critical part of DDI's work. This year, our advocacy focused on the glaring lack of oral health experts in positions of leadership in the federal government. Federal health agencies play a critical role in Americans' oral health, yet the voices of oral health experts are often absent from policy decision-making. DDI research found that at the start of 2021, only 1 in 12 federal agencies that oversee oral health initiatives had a Chief Dental Officer or equivalent—a concerning lack of representation. With a new administration taking the helm, we launched an advocacy effort calling for more oral health experts to be installed in positions of leadership, and we applauded the appointment of a Chief Dental Officer at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Dr. Natalia Chalmers.

Additionally, this year DDI continued its on-going efforts to promote the importance of oral health literacy and celebrated the House of Representatives' passage of the Oral Health Literacy and Awareness Act of 2021. We look forward to continuing our work with policymakers, health care influencers, and other key stakeholders in 2022.

Looking ahead

While our journey to advance the oral and overall health of all Americans continues, our research, community impact, and advocacy accomplishments over the past year have helped individuals across the country improve their health. As we look ahead to 2022, we are more committed than ever to advancing our mission and will be increasingly focused on the importance of whole-person health; including improving access to care, addressing inequities and disparities, and collaborating with partners across the country to drive greater awareness amongst all stakeholders of the central role oral health plays in overall health.