For one Native dental provider, her work is a family affair

Celebrate National Native American Heritage Month.

Arcora Foundation is proud to honor Indigenous people across the region and their enduring legacy. As we continue to celebrate National Native American Heritage Month, we uplift the voices of our Native partners who strive to improve oral and overall health in their communities.

By Angela Johnson

My name is Angela Johnson, my ancestral name is Tat-Sem-Maat. On my dad’s side of the family, I am Lummi and Quinault from my grandfather and Tsawwassen First Nations from my grandmother. My mom is non-native.

I am a dental therapist for my tribe—Lummi Nation—here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. A dental therapist is a mid-level dental provider—like a physician’s assistant in medicine. I provide preventive and routine dental care—such as completing sealants and restorations. I can perform simple extractions—under the supervision of a dentist or when agreed between the supervising dentist and dental therapist— under indirect supervision. I also attend our tribal school and complete procedures there. My profession helps expand access to care to people and areas in need.

Angela at work in her dental clinic.

I love working in my community because I get to see a lot of my family—nieces, nephews, aunties, uncles, and too many cousins to count. We are a small population—Lummi Nation itself serves about 6,000 people—but that makes us a big family. My relationships with my patients are unique in that way. Everyone knows everyone.

When family members come for a dental visit and know they are seeing me, they are happy they can be with someone they know who truly cares about their oral health and is passionate about improving their quality of life. A nephew of mine came in for a filling with our pediatric specialist. He had a tough time cooperating. When I asked if he wanted to do his entire appointment with me, he nodded yes. When he came back for his next visit, we were able to numb him, remove caries—tooth decay—and do a filling. When things like this happen, it makes my job worthwhile. I have done a few more fillings with him, and his approach to the appointments has been much better.

Angela treats a patient.

A lot of my adult family members refused to come back to Lummi Dental due to past trauma from a dentist who had a bad reputation throughout the tribe. Unfortunately, this is common for tribal clinics in the U.S. Our reservations are underserved and usually rural. Some do not even have running water. When providers are hired to work for our tribes, they are not used to this type of situation and population. We have a higher turnover rate as a result.

When asked, “What do you do?” Simply put, I say I do my best. This work to provide my tribal community—people with the same background and from the same conditions as mine—with quality dental care means so much to me. One single visit can be so impactful, positively or negatively, and determine whether a patient comes back to my office or a dental office in general. Oral health affects self-esteem and overall health. Improving my community’s—my family’s—oral health definitely drives me to do my best and continue to deliver excellent care and education.

Angela helps a younger patient with proper brushing technique.

Organizations like Arcora Foundation play such an important and meaningful role for me and my position. Arcora advocates for better oral health for communities with disparities. They have supported us with funding for minimally invasive dentistry. This innovative approach to care tries to preserve the tooth and remove as little tooth structure as possible. They have helped with funding to travel for professional development opportunities and for prizes and supplies—oral hygiene kits, dry mouth supplies, sugar free options—for events. Arcora is a one-of-a-kind organization that makes a huge difference in oral health care. They truly understand and agree dental therapists are the innovative change needed in dentistry.

Angela Johnson is a dental therapist at Lummi Nation.

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 info@arcorafoundation.org.

A future with healthy smiles for everyone

Personal reflections on the importance of equity in oral health.

By Matt Morton

As National Native American Heritage Month begins and I near the end of my first year on the Arcora Foundation Board of Trustees, I find myself contemplating the journey that led me to serve in this role. Being a Native American on a diverse board has provided a unique vantage point, allowing me to learn about the experiences of other communities and advocate for vital issues that resonate deeply with both my heritage and my passion for promoting equitable access to oral health care.

Unfluoridated water and an ‘inheritance of bad teeth’.

My decision to join Arcora Foundation stems from personal experience. Growing up in unincorporated Thurston County—on the same plot of land my grandmother was born on—I had no idea my life was different from any of my friends in Olympia. We attended the same schools and played on the same teams. My source of water, though, was different. If you’re not familiar with Olympia, let me tell you a secret: “It’s the Water.” Delicious, pure underground artesian wells provided my family with water for generations. It only had one problem: It didn’t have fluoride. With no systemic prevention, caries—the disease that causes tooth decay—were a regular occurrence growing up, and inheriting bad teeth became an acceptable explanation for the common occurrence of dental pain and fillings.

Many years later, as the executive director of the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA) in Portland, I witnessed firsthand the disparity a community experiences when access to proper dental care is limited, including the far-reaching implications of diminished overall health. In 2014, I decided to do something about it. NAYA joined an effort to bring public water fluoridation to the City of Portland. While our efforts did not succeed, I became a member of a special task force that brought together fluoride advocates and opponents in the name of children’s dental health. Major water fluoridation proponents—Northwest Health Foundation and Kaiser Permanente—along with the largest in-state donor for the anti-water-fluoridation campaign funded and led the effort. The task force studied the most workable solutions for improving dental health outcomes for children in Multnomah County—where Portland is—and we made both policy and practice recommendations that are still in effect today. By joining the Arcora Foundation Board of Trustees, I’m continuing to address the disparities experienced by my community and so many others. It was Arcora’s inclusive approach to problem-solving that convinced me that my involvement could bring a valuable perspective to the table.

Arcora: a mission beyond dental services.

At Arcora, our mission extends beyond providing dental services; it encompasses a comprehensive, systems-level approach to promote oral health equity. By fostering partnerships with communities and the nonprofits that serve them, health care providers, and policymakers, we seek to implement sustainable initiatives that target populations who sit closest to the disparities. Our focus lies in bridging the gap between accessible care and those who need it the most. We work to ensure everyone has the opportunity for a healthy smile.

Being part of Arcora’s work has not only allowed me to contribute to a larger cause but has also served as a reminder of the transformative power of advocacy. Witnessing the positive impact of our programs on communities that have historically been neglected or underserved has reaffirmed my commitment. It’s not just about dental health; it’s about empowering individuals, fostering dignity, instilling a sense of well-being and community self-determination.

I do this work because of my community and my ancestors. It’s about ensuring that future generations won’t have to endure the same challenges; it’s about paving the way for a more inclusive and equitable future. It’s a future where access to health care, including oral health services, is not a privilege but a fundamental human right for everyone. This vision continues to drive me. Together, we can build a future where every smile reflects not just good oral health but of a community thriving in equity and compassion.

Matt Morton is an Arcora Foundation trustee and the president of the Community Foundation of Southwest Washington.

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 info@arcorafoundation.org.

Celebrate our Latinx staff for National Hispanic Heritage Month

3 perspectives on the importance of equity-focused work.

At Arcora Foundation, partnerships power our work. We collaborate with people across Washington state to further our mission to bend the arc of oral health toward equity.

Our staff are essential to build and maintain our partnerships. Their dedication and experience help to center community voices in our work to achieve good oral and overall health for people who face barriers to dental care—especially in Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.

For National Hispanic Heritage Month, we celebrate our Latinx staff. Matt, Melissa, and Konstanza share about their backgrounds and lived experiences, which help to better serve Latinx and other people in our state so that everyone can reach their full health potential.

Matt Gonzalez, Associate Program OfficerMatt Gonzalez

Matt identifies as Latino and is an Arcora associate program officer.

In my role, I am fortunate enough to partner with community-based organizations. Pacific Islander Health Board, Latino Educational Training Institute, and Asia Pacific Cultural Center are a few organizations I have worked with in the last year.

I take the time needed to make strong, trust-based connections within communities, which allow me to share the importance of good oral health and collaborate in ways that include everyone’s voice. Then I share with my Arcora colleagues the many ways health care inequality affects people across the state of Washington. With their expertise, we strategize ways to address these issues at a systemic level to improve health outcomes for all.

This work means so much to me because it allows me to be who I am, use my strengths in interpersonal relationship building, and support organizations serving the people with the most need. It allows me to uplift people from my community—Latino, LGBTQ, first generation college student—and other communities facing the same barriers to good oral health. Not often am I in a room with people who look like me. Whenever I can be a familiar, relatable, and welcoming face to those in a position to make change, it makes me feel like I am right where I am supposed to be.

I smile when I see a spark in someone’s eyes that something I have shared resonates with them. It lets me know I have made a difference, although small, and a step in the right direction.

Melissa Martinez

Melissa identifies as Latina and is an outreach specialist at Arcora.

I have the privilege of collaborating with dental providers, community partners, and patients to spread the word about Arcora’s programs.

But what I do isn’t just about dental health. It’s also about championing equity! My mission is crystal clear: I’m dedicated to ensuring that every Washingtonian enjoys equitable access to health care. This commitment runs deep as I vividly recall my own parents’ struggles to access care while growing up.

If you were to look back through my family photo albums, you would likely notice that my dad never smiled in photos, often opting to make a funny face—like sticking out his tongue—rather than show his discolored and decaying teeth. I was a preteen when I witnessed my father undergo the emotional experience of having all his teeth removed and replaced by full dentures before he was 50. On the day of his appointment, I anticipated that he would return with newfound confidence that would make him want to smile in photos. Instead, he sat at our dining table and cried. He regretted not placing a greater emphasis on seeking care and allowing himself to be discouraged so easily when he felt he couldn’t afford to see a dentist and struggled to find a dental office that would accommodate his lack of insurance. He felt he was entirely at fault.

What I came to understand years later was how, as parents, their priority was me, their daughter. Their first sacrifice was their own needs. Both my mother and father worked diligently to make ends meet, and any time away from work without pay required careful budgeting. This meant that, after ensuring I received the attention I needed, the additional time and money required to search for the resources necessary for their own care were scarcely available.

This profound personal experience especially fuels my passion for Apple Health—our state Medicaid program—and understanding of the hurdles providers face when serving Apple Health patients. My goal? To leverage this insight to reshape the standard of care to make health care accessible to everyone and provide accurate resources that make it easier to find the right care.

Konstanza Von Sternberg, Bilingual Referral Specialist - DentistLinkKonstanza Von Sternberg

Konstanza identifies as Latina and is an Arcora DentistLink referral specialist.

I was born in Ecuador and raised by a Hispanic/Latinx mother and an American father. My experience with health care was far easier than the classmates and friends I grew up with.

Growing up in a low-income household with two working parents, I spent a lot of time in after-school programs or at a friend’s home. I lived in Alexandria, Virginia in 4th and 5th grades and my best friend was Carolina, who is El Salvadoran. After performing our carefully crafted dance routines, we rushed back into her apartment for snacks and beverages of the sugary kind. Remember those little barrel-shaped sugar bombs with the foil lids? That kind. I’m talking dollar-store popsicles, Kool-Aid mix, those big bags of store brand cereal, and even Carolina’s leftover Halloween candy from 2 years ago if we were really desperate. With no adults around, it was too easy to run straight down to cavity town.

I understand all of this as an adult. I also understand this as a child of a first-generation immigrant—and friend of many first-generation immigrants. There are certain sacrifices you make in the pursuit of a better life. This includes hustling day and night to make sure those that come after you don’t have to. Or sacrificing how much time you spend at home during the week so that you can afford to fill the piñata on birthdays. And even letting go of certain health needs so you can still afford to keep the water running and the stove hot. Luckily, my mom arrived early enough each night to force me to brush my teeth. So many of us grew up with the privilege of having our parents around to do these things. And as much as I would have felt lucky to be in Carolina’s position when I was that age, I’m lucky I didn’t get the option.

Fiestas Patrias 2020.

This is why I do what I do, and why it means so much to me. I had the privilege of regular dental care growing up. Now, I get to use that privilege to make a difference in my own community. The community that nourished my stomach and my soul when I needed it the most. I want to be part of the reason things get easier on us. Even if it is in a small way.

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 info@arcorafoundation.org.

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 info@arcorafoundation.org.

$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 info@arcorafoundation.org.