Bridging the gap: Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month and the vitality of oral health

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

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

$120,000 in funding supports continued access to care for Washingtonians in need

Grants to community health centers will help efforts to maintain coverage for people with Apple Health (Medicaid).

People with limited income and resources may face barriers to access health care. That’s where Apple Health (Medicaid) comes in. According to the Washington State Health Care Authority (HCA), more than 2 million Washingtonians have access to dental, medical, and other services because of Apple Health.

Funding from Arcora Foundation will help people with Apple Health keep their coverage. Arcora awarded $120,000 in grants to Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) across the state to conduct Apple Health outreach and enrollment activities. FQHCs are federally funded nonprofit health centers or clinics where people who are underserved can get care.

Arcora provided this funding  because of a big change to Apple Health eligibility requirements—known as the Medicaid Unwind. During the COVID-19 public health emergency, Apple Health maintained continuous coverage for people, waiving the requirement that clients re-confirm their eligibility status. As a result of this temporary rule change—as well as the pandemic’s effects on the economy—many Washingtonians signed up for Apple Health who never had it before. Enrollees received continuous Apple Health coverage throughout the public health emergency.

When the public health emergency ended in the spring of 2023, Apple Health reverted to the pre-pandemic requirements that people with Apple Health verify they’re still eligible for coverage. If they don’t, they may lose it. Because so many Washingtonians signed up for Apple Health during the pandemic and never had to re-verify their eligibility, thousands are at risk of losing coverage. The HCA, Health Benefit Exchange, managed care organizations, providers, community-based organizations, and others are reaching out to families and individuals affected by this change. Here’s more information from the HCA on the Medicaid Unwind and what clients can expect.

These 6 FQHCs received $20,000 each. The funds will support activities to maintain Apple Health coverage for people in their communities:

Apple Health is critical to helping people connect to care  who might not otherwise have access. When more people access care, they are better able to  reach their full health potential. Thank you to FQHCs across the state that share Arcora’s  vision that all people enjoy good oral and overall health with no one left behind, and that work tirelessly to achieve it.

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

More than $320,000 in grants expands oral health care access across Puget Sound region

Award announcements come during National Health Center Week, which recognizes nonprofit clinics’ vital role to support oral health, culturally appropriate care, equity.

SEATTLE–A healthy smile says more about you than how happy you are. It also reflects your overall health. Research links poor oral health to conditions like diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and pregnancy complications. Good oral health is essential to good overall health.

In Washington state, not everyone has the same opportunities for good oral health. To expand oral health access so no one is left behind, Arcora Foundation is proud to partner with and fund International Community Health Services (ICHS) and Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe (PGST). Arcora awarded ICHS a $180,000 grant and a $142,292 grant to the PGST health center for capital improvements that will support the oral and overall health of the communities they serve.

“Community health centers are leaders in providing high quality care with a culturally appropriate approach,” said Arcora Foundation President and CEO Vanetta Abdellatif. “Arcora’s continued partnership with ICHS and PGST will ensure more people can get the care they need when and where they need it.”

The more than $320,000 in grant funding is part of Arcora’s long-term, statewide effort to reduce health disparities through increased dental care access. From 2017 through 2022, Arcora has invested nearly $12 million in grant funding in community health centers, nonprofit clinics, and other organizations dedicated to narrowing health gaps throughout the state. National Health Center Week—Aug. 6-12—is an annual event that celebrates and raises awareness of the country’s 1,400 community health centers.

About Arcora Foundation

Arcora Foundation advances oral health across Washington state. We are the foundation of Delta Dental of Washington, and the state’s largest foundation dedicated to this cause. We center our work in equity to achieve good oral health for all. Through partnerships, we focus our prevention and access priorities on racial and ethnic communities—specifically Black, Indigenous, and People of Color—where disparities in oral disease and access to care are significant. Our mission is in our name: bending the arc of oral health toward equity. Learn more at

About International Community Health Services

Founded in Seattle’s historic Chinatown-International District, the International Community Health Services provides culturally and linguistically appropriate health and wellness services to thousands of patients each year in 11 locations throughout the region. ICHS provides quality, affordable health care in more than 70 languages and dialects to anyone in need and to promote health equity for all. Learn more at

About Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe

The Port Gamble S’Klallam Health Center enhances the quality of life of the Tribe and its members by providing the highest quality health care through a culturally appropriate and holistic for individuals of all ages and their families. Its Community Health Center in Kingston serves the needs of PGST community members and enrolled Native individuals living in Kitsap County. Learn more at


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

Policy for sustainable oral health improvements

Spring trees and flowers bloom in front of the Washington state capitol building

Policy Director Alison Mondi shares highlights from the 2023 Legislative Session.

Washington state’s 2023 Legislative Session has concluded, and legislators are back in their home districts for the interim. It was a busy 105 days! Arcora Foundation is pleased to share the many wins for oral health and health equity.

Thanks to the dedication and advocacy of oral health providers, patient advocates, and oral health champions in the Legislature, lawmakers passed bills and budgets that support improved access to oral health care, prevention of disease, and a more robust workforce. Arcora works alongside provider organizations, patient advocates, community-based organizations, and others as we pursue meaningful systems change to reduce disparities and further oral health equity.

Here is a summary of the oral health measures that passed this session. We look forward to continued work with advocacy partners, legislative champions, and other state leaders on implementation.

Community Water Fluoridation

ESHB 1251, which requires 90 days of public notice before a decision to stop or start community water fluoridation, passed the House and Senate with unanimous votes and was signed by Gov. Inslee on April 20.

Fluoridation is an effective and equitable way to prevent tooth decay. This legislation will help ensure residents, as well as their dental and medical providers, have timely and accurate information about a decision that impacts their health and wellbeing. Thank you to prime sponsor Rep. Monica Stonier, Senate companion prime sponsor Sen. June Robinson, and everyone who advocated for this important public health measure!

“Tooth decay is preventable and yet it is the number one chronic disease facing children. Parents and providers need to know if their water system is considering changing its fluoridation status in order to take the needed steps to protect oral health, which is why I strongly support ESHB 1251.”

Dr. Elisabeth Warder, Dental Director, CHAS Health

Apple Health (Medicaid) Dental and Access to Care

The final operating and capital budgets included funding to support increased access to oral health care for Apple Health enrollees and Washingtonians who face challenges accessing dental care.

Two improvements for the Apple Health dental program will go into effect on January 1, 2024:

  • A 40% reimbursement rate increase for pediatric dental cleanings (code D1120) in the Apple Health program to support access to preventive oral health care for kids.
  • An increase in the allowable number of periodontal treatments (code D4910) to up to four per 12-month period for adult Medicaid enrollees with diabetes to support better health outcomes.

The Legislature also continued the public/private partnership for DentistLink, which works to support providers and connect more patients to care. DentistLink—fully funded by Arcora and the Washington State Health Care Authority—is a no-cost referral service that connects people with Apple Health (Medicaid) or no insurance to care.

The capital budget includes funding to increase dental clinic capacity with seven projects at six Community Health Centers. The projects will serve people with low-incomes, communities of color, and those in rural areas. Funding these projects will increase access to oral health services by providing an additional 37,503 dental appointments.

Legislators also passed SHB 1683 (Rep. Stephanie Barnard), which requires stand-alone dental carriers to pay for covered denture services, with the goal of increasing access to care.

Oral Health Workforce

Access to timely and culturally relevant care is only possible with an adequate and representative oral health workforce. We’re pleased legislators took up this issue and passed several measures aimed at increasing the oral health workforce and supporting a more diverse workforce:

  • ESHB 1503 requires collection of health care professionals’ demographic information at the time of license application and license renewal. Thank you to Rep. Marcus Riccelli for championing this measure to support better information about the composition of our workforce!
  • Several bills will make it easier for hygienists trained in other states to work in Washington: ESHB 1576 (Rep. Michelle Caldier), HB 1287 (Rep. My-Linh Thai), and ESHB 1466 (Rep. Marcus Riccelli).
  • SB 5113 permits out-of-state dentists to practice as faculty at all accredited dental schools in Washington.

“Passage of ESHB 1503 is a significant step forward to helping to identify health care gaps across our state, especially in rural areas and for historically underrepresented populations.”

Lolinda Turner, Program Manager for Dental Workforce Diversity & Inclusion, Delta Dental of Washington

In a significant milestone, legislators passed ESHB 1678 (Rep. Marcus Riccelli), which authorizes dental therapy in federally qualified health centers (FQHCs). Dental therapists are mid-level dental providers who work under the supervision of a dentist and provide prevention as well as a limited set of restorative services for patients. Dental therapy is currently only authorized in Tribal settings in Washington.

Legislators also funded several budget items to support the oral health workforce:

  • Continued funding for a University of Washington Center for Health Workforce Studies program to track dental workforce trends.
  • Funding to support the startup of the dental therapy education program at Skagit Valley College in partnership with the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community.
  • Funding for the Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences (PNWU) School of Dental Medicine Community Health Partnership. This partnership places students in rural and underserved community settings after the first year, where they will receive hands-on clinical training observed by a supervising dentist.

None of these wins would be possible without so many partners across the state and in the Legislature who tirelessly advocate for policy changes that support providers; increase access to timely and culturally relevant care; and prevent oral disease.

If you have questions about the 2023 Legislative Session, or would like to discuss potential areas of collaboration for future legislative sessions, please reach out to

Alison Mondi
Policy Director, Arcora Foundation

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

Juneteenth honors Black Americans’ past

For a healthier future, equity is essential.

For Juneteenth, we recognize how far Black Americans have come from the enslavement of our ancestors. We honor our struggles and successes. We celebrate our rich culture and our resilient spirit. Black joy embodies this optimism and passion for a bright future. 

Black joy also embraces the ability to achieve good oral and overall health. Both are essential to reach your full health potential. Poor oral health is linked to diabetes, heart disease, and other serious or life-threatening conditions. In Washington state, data show disparities in oral health care by race and ethnicity. 

At Arcora Foundation and Delta Dental of Washington, we advance equity in oral health. Our shared vision is that everyone enjoys good oral and overall health with no one left behind. We are leaning into that vision through efforts to empower Black people and others who have previously been left behind across Washington state toward positive change. Here are examples of what we are doing: 

Dental Professional Pathways Program—This program introduces youth from historically underrepresented groups to careers in the dental field. Studies show the lack of diversity in the field is linked to oral health disparities. 

Policy work—Action at the policy level brings sustainable change to systems. These changes expand prevention resources and access to care to include more people. We collaborate with policymakers, lobbyists, and local and state elected officials to advance our policy priorities. Wins for oral health from the 2023 legislative session include: 

  • Gov. Inslee signed a bill into law that requires a 90-day public notice before water systems stop or start community water fluoridation. I had the pleasure to watch the governor sign this bill! Rural, low-income, and underserved communities suffer most from lack of access to fluoridation. As a result, adults and children needlessly suffer from oral health problems. Research shows community water fluoridation is the most cost-effective, equitable way to prevent cavities and tooth decay in people of all ages and backgrounds.

  • $500,000 over the 2023-2025 biennium to continue the public-private partnership with the Washington State Health Care Authority (HCA) so DentistLink can continue to connect more patients with access challenges to care. DentistLink is a no-cost referral service that connects people with Apple Health (Medicaid) or no insurance to care. Arcora and the HCA fully fund DentistLink. 

  • $328,000—state and federal funding combined—over the 2023-2025 biennium to improve the Medicaid periodontal maintenance benefit for people with diabetes statewide (takes effect Jan. 1, 2024).  

  • The governor signed a bill into law that authorizes dental therapy statewide. The new law allows Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and FQHC look-alike clinics to hire dental therapists. The law expands access to care to more people who otherwise might not be able to afford it. 
I had the privilege to connect with young scientists as part of the Dental Professional Pathways Program’s partnership with the Storm Academy.
Arcora Foundation, Delta Dental of Washington, and partners witness Governor Inslee sign ESHB1251 into law.

I am excited about Arcora’s and Delta Dental of Washington’s continued work with partners on these and other upstream interventions. Progress toward greater equity in oral health is happening. Our sustained efforts move us closer to a time when everyone—no matter their background—is cavity-free. 

Happy Juneteenth!  

Vanetta Abdellatif
President and CEO, Arcora Foundation