The Delta Dental Institute Convenes Leaders To Discuss Expanding Access To Comprehensive Care In Tennessee

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


August 28, 2019 | Press Release


NASHVILLE, TN — Last week, the Delta Dental Institute hosted more than 25 leaders from the Nashville area at a roundtable event to discuss the obstacles and opportunities surrounding access to affordable, comprehensive health care—in Tennessee and across the U.S. Each attendee brought a unique perspective from their respective backgrounds in health care, academia, business, philanthropy, and policy.

During his opening remarks, Delta Dental of Tennessee (DDTN) President and CEO, Dr. Phil Wenk, emphasized how having access to oral care can change someone’s life. He described one project, by DDTN's Smile 180 Foundation, that subsidizes the cost of dentures for working age adults in Tennessee. He explained that helping provide these individuals with a healthy smile has made a huge difference in their emotional well-being and overall health.  

The discussion began with a focus on TennCare, the state's Medicaid program. Despite the diverse experiences at the table—with some participants working for large companies and others representing small community-based clinics—there was broad consensus that structural issues within TennCare make it difficult for many to access the care they need, including dental care. There was also agreement in the room that it was time to take action and make it easier for Tennesseans to get access to comprehensive care.

Tennessee State Senator Bo Watson offered insights from his position on the Senate Health & Welfare Committee, noting that TennCare was one of the first programs of its kind. He pointed out that despite challenges with the program, Tennessee has always been innovative when it comes to health benefits. Sen. Watson followed with an important point: the focus should be on health rather than health care, and that prevention is key to keeping people healthy, including when it comes to their oral health.

Other themes that emerged from the conversation included the need for increased access to care in rural counties, which make up much of Tennessee; the importance of improving coordination among health programs since every aspect of a person's health is deeply connected; and the critical role that preventive care plays in averting health emergencies. The morning's conversation was underscored by one central point: having comprehensive health benefits is about more than just medicine; knowing you can reliably receive the care you need provides a sense of dignity and confidence.

The Nashville event was the third in the Delta Dental Institute's roundtable discussion series, which is taking place in cities across the country to highlight the importance of oral health and its connection to overall health. The first event took place in Denver, CO, in conjunction with the launch of the Delta Dental Institute on June 19, and the second occurred in Chicago, IL in July. The Delta Dental Institute will travel to Phoenix, AZ and Boston, MA for similar events in the coming months. These discussions with local leaders will help inform the Delta Dental Institute's national research and advocacy agendas.

See Axios' coverage of the discussion in Nashville here