On this second annual Health Equity Hero Day, DentaQuest, a purpose-driven oral health care company dedicated to improving the oral health of all, announced its 2022 Health Equity Heroes: disruptors in health systems. In addition to celebrating and promoting the work of the 12 Health Equity Heroes, DentaQuest is making $60,000 in charitable contributions— $5,000 in the name of each hero to a nonprofit of their choice.
Now in its eighth year, the DentaQuest Health Equity Hero program celebrates individuals and organizations responsible for extraordinary work that champions equitable access to health care (medical, oral health, behavioral health) and optimal overall health outcomes. This year, DentaQuest selected forward-thinking agents of change — heroes taking action to transform health systems in their communities in an effort to remedy long-standing disparities.
“Over the last two years, it’s become startlingly clear that our current health systems are in desperate need of transformation,” DentaQuest President Steve Pollock said. “These Health Equity Heroes are earnestly taking action, finding innovative and inspiring ways to champion change and create a more inclusive system. We are privileged to honor them as heroes and give thanks to them and so many others who are making a difference in oral and overall health.”
The 2022 Health Equity Heroes:
Alex Barrera, DDS, created the Houston Equality Dental Network (HEDN), an organized dentistry group specifically for LGBTQ+ dental professionals and patients, after experiencing firsthand discrimination as a gay dentist and working with patients who have faced similar challenges. The LGBTQ+ community is identified as a “health disparity population,” primarily due to lowered access to health care. Over the past three years, HEDN has provided free education to dental professionals on topics unique to the LGBTQ+ community. Now, HEDN is giving back to the local queer community, holding oral health information sessions for LGBTQ+ groups around Houston and free virtual dental consultations to help LGBTQ+ individuals gain access to dental care. Barrera’s Health Equity Hero donation will be used to support Houston Equality Dental Network.
Jeannie McGee Bath, DDS, has had a special connection to Good Shepherd Ministries free care clinic in Oklahoma City since her time volunteering during dental school. Since then, Bath has been part of its growth and expansion from an extraction clinic to a free dental home for area residents who can’t afford dental care.Bath is also preparing the next generation of dentists, mentoring volunteer college and dental school students (University of Oklahoma and University of Central Oklahoma) as they learn about the art and science of dentistry. Bath’s Health Equity Hero donation will benefit Good Shepherd Ministries.
Dan Burch, DDS, clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M University’s Department of Pediatric Dentistry, recognized that finding dental care for teens and adults with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD) is a challenge across the U.S. Burch saw that many programs supporting pediatric I/DD and special needs populations wanted to serve these patients throughout their lifespan but needed help. He launched the Compromised Care and Hospital Dentistry Fellowship at Texas A&M College of Dentistry, the nation’s first minority-centered special care dentistry postdoctoral fellowship. In just two years, the program has led to an increase in access to care for more than 15,000 special needs patients, and its success has served as a blueprint for other dental programs nationwide. DentaQuest’s donation in honor of Burch is going to the Texas A&M Foundation.
Rep. Rhonda Butler, of the State of Louisiana House of Representatives, understood that dental care is the number one unmet need among adults with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD). Lack of access to comprehensive dental care for these adults creates an over-dependence and strain on hospital emergency departments. For Rep. Butler, a parent of an adult with I/DD, prevention is key. In an effort to expand access to care for this population, she successfully championed legislation to enable I/DD adults over the age of 21 to access a dental provider and get needed services through the State. These changes will prevent or reduce the impact of illness on individuals and their families. Rep. Butler asked that the DentaQuest Equity Hero contribution support St. Mary’s Residential Training School, locally known for its work to create meaningful jobs, build a sense of belonging.
Karen Carson, MS, PT, and Hollie Kozak have observed a lot of disparities over their years in health care. Both joined Summa Health’s first Diversity Advisory Council in the early 2000s and helped launch A PLUS, the LGBTQ-supporting Employee Resource Group that created a safe space for discussion and change. As self-described “solutions people,” Kozak and Carson had more work to do. They saw an opportunity to bring a health clinic focused on the needs of LGBTQ+ people to the Akron, Ohio area. Summa Health moved quickly, opening its PRIDE Clinic in 2019. By the end of 2021, the new clinic was bringing in patients from 26 counties across Ohio and from out of state. It has been their dream to help Summa Health engage this community, traditionally fearful of health care, with a clinic that treats the person as a whole staffed by care teams who are passionate about understanding their needs. The DentaQuest donation in honor of Carson and Kozak will support the Summa PRIDE Clinic.
Howard Cowen DDS, MS, DABSCD, FICD, director of geriatric & special needs dentistry of the University of Iowa College of Dentistry, has been educating generations of dentists about treating geriatric and special needs patients for the past 40 years. The U.S. population of adults ages 65+ is growing, necessitating the need for more geriatric dental care specialists. As part of his mission to teach geriatric dental care, he manages the college’s geriatric care mobile van, which visits area nursing homes to provide comprehensive oral health care for chronically ill and compromised individuals. The DentaQuest Health Equity Hero donation will support the Howard J. Cowen Geriatric and Special Needs Scholarship Fund of the University of Iowa Alumni Association.
Kavitha P. Das, BDS, MPH, MS, of Purpose Med Solutions is a dentist, academic and social entrepreneur working to improve the health and wellbeing of residents of New York and New Jersey’s diverse urban communities, which have a predisposition to a number of chronic diseases that have lifetime consequences. Her goal is to change the inevitability of chronic disease (diabetes, heart disease, oral diseases, and oral cancer) for children and families. Das leads behind-the-scenes community engagement and public policy work, meeting with principals, school and community leaders, and clergy groups to highlight the opportunity for change, align on what can be done, and create an action plan that builds trust and engagement within the local community. DentaQuest is making a donation to Legion of Good Will in honor of Das.
Stefanie Etienne, MD, worked tirelessly during the COVID-19 pandemic to help provide vaccines to over 15,000 people from underrepresented communities. She oversees health clinics for Wake County Health and Human Services in Wake County, North Carolina. One such clinic is the Refugee Clinic, where Etienne and staff cared for over 700 refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, and the Congo in 2021, and they expect 200 refugees from Ukraine before the end of 2022. The dental clinic has provided more than 4,200 preventive visits at no cost to uninsured children in Wake County since 2017. DentaQuest is making a donation in honor of Etienne to Project Hope Community, which serves families in the region with educational, social, and economical support.
Lorraine LaPorte, LSW, will tell you people take their teeth for granted — that we don’t fully appreciate how impactful teeth are to self-esteem, health, appearance, and the ability to secure work. Right now, oral health care is not part of recovery for those suffering from substance use disorder, and LaPorte is working to change that. As a social worker and substance abuse counselor, LaPorte is an adult mental health and wellness advocate, intervening in crisis situations and providing critical case management and counseling at drug and alcohol residential programs. She also partners with The National Council for Mental Wellbeing on a framework for integrated and coordinated oral health and mental health care within treatment programs. DentaQuest is making a donation in honor of LaPorte to Mercy Hospice.
Lilia Larin, DDS, a community dentist and seasoned advocate for oral health, was very aware that fear of the COVID-19 virus and the vaccine was hurting her Spanish-speaking community. During COVID, the CDC reported that Hispanics under age 50 experienced noticeably higher rates of infection compared to the general U.S. population. She joined the San Diego County Medical Reserve as a volunteer vaccinator, one of the few and often the only Spanish speaker and gave interviews about the vaccines on English and Spanish language television networks. Larin went further, distributing vaccination safety talking points to members of the Hispanic Dental Association and educating legislators in Sacramento and Washington D.C. on oral health and the vaccines. Larin asked that the DentaQuest donation be made to the Hispanic Dental Association Foundation.
Mary E. Martin, DDS, co-founder of and board member of The Smiles for Success Foundation, connects women who are completing job training programs while transitioning from welfare, homelessness or incarceration to the dental care they need to approach job interviews with confidence. The life-transforming dental care is provided pro bono by members of the American Association of Women Dentists working with affiliate programs in Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Denver and Pensacola with more cities to come. Martin has asked that her Health Equity Hero donation be used to support Smiles for Success.
Mira Yang believes preventive dentistry is the best dentistry, so she and the team at Early Smiles Sacramento, a program of the Center for Oral Health, provide preventive dental screenings and fluoride varnish treatments for over 27,000 children in Sacramento’s Title 1 schools across 13 public school districts. When a child needs immediate care due to active dental disease, Yang and her team connect them to dental care within 24 to 48 hours and even arrange transportation and translation services. The DentaQuest donation in honor of Yang will go to the Tooth Fairies of California.
DentaQuest is a purpose-driven health care company dedicated to improving the oral health of all. We do this through Preventistry — our inclusive approach to quality care and expanded access built on trusted partnerships between patients, providers and payors. As one of the nation’s largest and most experienced Medicaid dental benefits administrators, we manage dental and vision benefits for more than 33 million Americans through a nationwide network of providers in all 50 states.
Our outcomes-based, cost-effective dental solutions are designed for Medicaid and CHIP, Medicare Advantage, small and large businesses, and individuals. At the same time, we are expanding our footprint of more than 70 oral health centers in six states to deliver direct patient care in rural and underserved populations.