Delta Dental Calls for More Dentists in Government Roles

Dentistry Today


Federal agencies need to install oral health experts in leadership roles, according to the Delta Dental Institute. In its review of 12 federal agencies that oversee oral health initiatives, the Delta Dental Institute said, only one has a chief dental officer or equivalent, compared to seven with a chief medical officer or equivalent.

Also, the organization said, its recent polling has found strong support for federal policies to expand oral health access and affordability, which will require an increased focus on oral health and expertise within agencies to implement.

President-elect Joe Biden recently nominated several health officials including Xavier Becerra for Secretary of Health and Human Services and Rochelle Walensky for director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with more to come in the weeks ahead, and the Delta Dental Institute is calling on them to make oral health a priority.

“Federal agencies play a foundational role in advancing the oral health of all Americans, and to effectively fulfill this role, it is essential they have oral health experts among their senior leadership,” said Dr. Joseph Dill, head of dental science at the Delta Dental Institute. “It’s simple. Oral health experts should oversee oral health programs.”

Over the past eight years, only two of the 12 agencies that the Delta Dental Institute examined have had a chief dental officer or equivalent, while eight have had a chief medical officer or equivalent over the same period. These agencies include:

  • The CDC
  • The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
  • The Health Resources and Services Administration
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs
  • The Department of Education
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • The Department of State
  • The Environmental Protection Agency
  • The Food and Drug Administration
  • The National Institutes of Health
  • The National Institutes of Health Division of Clinical Research
  • The Office of the Surgeon General

Federal funding for oral health initiatives is disproportionately low as well, the Delta Dental Institute said, and many agencies don’t report a breakdown of their oral health funding at all. From 2012 to 2020, the average annual financing for oral health initiatives at these agencies was less than 5% of their overall health funding.

Also, federal agencies publish substantially fewer reports and policy brief focused on oral health than other health topics, indicating a troubling lack of attention to the topic, the Delta Dental Institute said. From 2012 to 2020, only one major oral health-focused report was published annually between all of the federal agencies that work on health issues.

“It’s critical that federal agencies prioritize America’s oral health and advance initiatives that expand access to affordable care,” said Vivian Vasallo, executive director of the Delta Dental Institute. “Simply put, oral health is health. It’s time for these agencies to recognize that by appointing oral health experts to their leadership and increasing their focus on oral health initiatives.”

The Delta Dental Institute also said that Americans overwhelmingly support federal policies to expand oral health access and affordability, with 87% in a recent poll supporting legislation at the federal level that expands dental benefits to children. Also, 89% of Americans think dental benefits should be included in programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

These findings clearly show the American people support federal agencies making oral health a key priority, said the Delta Dental Institute, which urges the federal agencies it studies to prioritize oral health in their leadership and funding decisions.

“Oral health is critical to overall health, and by neglecting to adequately prioritize oral health issues, these agencies are missing an opportunity to tackle overall health problems,” said Dill. “This leadership gap impacts the strategic focus and funding of agencies. Delta Dental is willing and eager to be a partner in helping get oral health expertise at senior levels to better address oral health issues.”

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