A 2020 preview from the Executive Director

Jan 6, 2020 | Press Release

"Smile, keep smiling, and the whole world smiles with you." I love these Frank Sinatra lyrics. They're a (catchy) reminder that a healthy smile is an essential part of a healthy life. However, for too many Americans access to affordable, quality oral health care is lacking.

Our national health care dialogue has evolved in recent years, placing an increased focus on affordability and access to overall health, including access to mental health care and the role of social determinants. The Delta Dental Institute was conceived because we saw a critical need for oral health to be a central part of that evolution.
The Delta Dental Institute’s mission is to advance the oral health of all Americans. I was brought on as Executive Director to help fulfill that mission by building an influential advocacy program driven by evidence-based research and further elevating the impactful community outreach work being done across the country.

My approach, first and foremost, has been to listen. My second day on the job I traveled to Boston to attend the Delta Dental Institute's fifth and final 2019 roundtable discussion so I could hear directly from health professionals about the challenges they face in their communities. All told, this roundtable series—which we will continue in 2020 with five new cities—convened more than 100 local leaders in health care, academia, and government. These roundtables provided a valuable forum for candid, solutions-oriented conversations about access to comprehensive health care across the U.S., including oral care, and helped us understand where the Delta Dental Institute can have the greatest impact.

Taking what I heard in these discussions, I have been reflecting on several key questions as I shape our 2020 agenda: How do we meet people where they are on oral health education? What is the most effective way to increase oral health literacy so that families and their health providers can improve health outcomes? How do we evaluate policy and research through the lens of our mission? What is the best way to measure impact?

I don't have all the answers yet, but I look forward to collaborating with partners around the country to move us closer to solutions that make a real difference for more Americans. I'm also excited about many of the initiatives the Delta Dental Institute has planned for 2020, including:

  • A second roundtable listening tour to five additional cities, to continue the conversations about access to comprehensive health care that we started in Denver, Chicago, Nashville, Phoenix, and Boston in 2019. These discussions with local leaders are critical to informing our national advocacy work.
  • A white paper on oral health literacy published in collaboration with researchers from the University of Maryland, University of California, Los Angeles and Tufts University. The paper aims to both assess the challenges of the issue and provide actionable recommendations for policymakers.
  • A comprehensive community benefit report that will bring to life the incredible impact generated by Delta Dental companies across the nation. We will also regularly elevate stories of local outreach that aren't always on the front pages.

Since launching last year, the Delta Dental Institute has laid a strong foundation for a robust and impactful research, advocacy, and community outreach agenda. And we’ve only just begun! I hope you will join me this year as we work to ensure every American can have a healthy smile and lead their healthiest life.

Vivian Vasallo
Executive Director
Delta Dental Institute