Cal State Gets $16.6 Million Grant to Improve Oral Healthcare

Dentistry Today


The California Department of Health Care Services has awarded a $16.6 million grant to California State University, Los Angeles, to promote dental health among underserved populations in the city. Cal State LA is one of 15 recipients of the Local Dental Pilot Project funding, which is part of the Medi-Cal 2020 Dental Transformation Initiative

The initiative’s goals include increasing access to oral healthcare, identifying and treating dental disease, and incentivizing continuity of care for children enrolled in Denti-Cal, which provides dental services under Medi-Cal to about 6 million children in California. The grant is believed to be the largest in Cal State LA’s history.

“Oral health is directly connected with overall health status and well-being across the lifespan. Oral health can affect academic achievement, self-esteem, relationships, income, and quality of life,” said Cal State LA professor Rita Ledesma, PhD, principal investigator on the grant.

“The grant provides a unique opportunity to build partnerships with community-based organizations and deliver oral health screening, oral health education, and supplemental services to address dental health disparities that children and families experience in our community,” said Ledesma. 

The Local Dental Pilot Project at Cal State LA will identify contextual barriers to children’s oral health and ways to integrate that knowledge into the design and delivery of program interventions. The team will create educational materials to raise awareness of the importance of preventive and regular maintenance of oral healthcare in children, youth, and young adults.

Mobile care teams will be deployed to community sites to provide oral health screenings. The teams will help children and their families establish an ongoing relationship with a dentist. The project also will develop targeted outreach to families with children with special needs and American Indian and Alaska Native families with unique circumstances affecting oral health. 

According to Ledesma, children and youth with special needs frequently require specialized services, and the University of Southern California (USC) and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles are well equipped to meet those needs. Cal State LA’s Rongxiang Xu College of Health and Human Services is collaborating with USC’s Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry to integrate their expertise and experience along with other child and family services organizations.

“Our commitment to serving the community is long standing and central to the mission of our college and the university’s strategic plan,” said Ron Vogel, dean of the Rongxiang Xu College of Health and Human Services. “The principal investigator, Dr. Rita Ledesma, is deeply committed to the project and has organized an outstanding team to bring the grant outcomes to fruition.”

The Cal State LA team will implement educational and intervention strategies to support oral health. The USC team will assume primary responsibilities for dental health screenings. Both teams will focus on continuity of care and interdisciplinary training of students, agency staff, and community members.

“We look forward to joining with USC to carry out this important work,” said Jose A. Gomez, MA, MPA, PhD, Cal State LA’s executive vice president. “The knowledge and expertise of our 2 institutions will serve Los Angeles well.”

At Cal State LA, the project will be directed by Ledesma, who is associate dean of diversity and student engagement in the Rongxiang Xu College of Health and Human Services, and Ashley Munger, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Child and Family Studies.

Faculty from multiple disciplines will use their expertise to address conditions that undermine oral health status, using an approach that is attentive to culture, responsive to social context, and focuses on family and community strengths, Munger said. Undergraduate students from nursing, nutrition, public health, child and family studies, and communication disorders will be trained to support the project.

“Each area of study has specific and unique knowledge that can be harnessed to promote oral health in our community,” said Ledesma. “Students will begin professional careers and enter the workforce with a strong foundation of knowledge and experience that will increase capacities to work with families and communities on oral health issues.”

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