By Carmen Mendez
As we celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, it is a time for reflection on the cultural values and experiences that have shaped our lives. For me, the significance of this month is deeply intertwined with my journey to understand the importance of oral health, a lesson that was often overlooked during my upbringing in rural Mexico.
Growing up, oral health was not a priority in my family or community. We lacked access to proper dental care, and the consequences of this neglect soon became evident. I, like many others, found myself plagued by cavities and dental issues at a young age. The discomfort and pain were a constant reminder of the importance of good oral hygiene, but the means to address these issues were scarce.
These early experiences shaped my perception of dentists. Visits to the dentist were filled with fear and anxiety, as the memory of painful treatments lingered. When I eventually moved to the United States, I brought this apprehension with me. My relationship with dental care remained strained, as the trust I needed to place in my new dentist was hard to come by.
It was only after years of living in the United States that I began to understand that oral health is an integral part of overall health. The connection between oral health and one’s well-being is undeniable. It affects not only our ability to eat, speak, and smile but also our self-esteem and confidence. This realization was a turning point in my life.
Today, as an Arcora Foundation trustee, I have the privilege of being part of an organization that is committed to making a difference in the lives of individuals like me, who have faced challenges in accessing dental care. Our goal is to break down the barriers that prevent people from achieving good oral health. We collaborate with partners to reach communities that face barriers to care, provide education on oral hygiene, and advocate for policies and systems changes that promote oral health equity.
Hispanic Heritage Month serves as a reminder of the rich tapestry of cultures that make up this country. It is also a time to recognize the disparities that persist in various aspects of life, including health care. Oral health, often overlooked, is a critical component of overall well-being. It is a reminder that there is much work to be done in bridging the gap and ensuring that everyone, regardless of their background, can enjoy good oral health.
In celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, let us also celebrate the progress being made in advancing oral health equity. My journey from a childhood marked by dental neglect to becoming an Arcora Foundation trustee is a testament to the transformative power of understanding and prioritizing oral health. Together, we can bend the arc of oral health toward equity, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to smile confidently and live a healthier life.
Carmen Mendez is an Arcora Foundation trustee and director of food access network and allocation at Northwest Harvest.
We can’t do this work without you. Advancing oral health requires public and private partnerships, policy advocacy, and funding. Join us in our mission to bend the arc of oral health toward equity. Learn more and contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.