Investments in children’s oral health can produce a lifetime of healthy smiles

Oral health programs and policy lead to better health outcomes for our state’s children. 

Heather again! In my first blog, I told you about the history and successes of ABCD. In part 2, I’ll talk about how the continued support of legislators allows us to build on our successes.

Statewide investments in healthier childhoods. 

Last year was an exciting time for the ABCD program. With funding from the 2021 legislative session, we deepened outreach to families of color for children under age 2 and expanded ABCD to serve children with developmental disabilities through age 12. As of January 2023, 173 dental providers are now certified to provide care to this newly covered group of children with special health needs.  

“This additional funding, along with the resources and support from partners, gives ABCD programs and providers opportunities to connect more young children—especially those who have been left behind—with high quality dental care close to home. That’s equity in action.” 

Mary Ann Walker
ABCD coordinator
Yakima County

The ABCD program would not be possible without our statewide network of certified providers and champions. Nearly 4,000 dental professionals use their time and talents to ensure children from lower-income households receive the same compassionate, attentive care as any other child. In the 2022 legislative session, the state recognized their invaluable work through a $21.1 million investment in fee-for-service pediatric Medicaid rates. These new Medicaid rates in turn helped support the highest ABCD reimbursement rates ever. 

Investments like these show the state’s dedication and commitment to a healthier, more equitable state. The 2023 session is another opportunity to strengthen this commitment through several bills and budget ask with the goal of improving oral health for children and their families. 

Increased access to care for Apple Health (Medicaid) enrollees.

DentistLink is a no-cost dental referral service designed for people with Apple Health (Medicaid) or no dental coverage. This service helps individuals quickly and easily find care in their community. It’s also an invaluable tool for our ABCD program when connecting families to a local provider. 

2022 was DentistLink’s first full year as a formal public/private partnership between Arcora and the Washington State Health Care Authority. Funding in the 2021-2023 state budget established this agreement. We’ve seen great successes in this partnership. Our free Find-a-Dentist tool was accessed more than 70,000 times, helping to connect people to the right dentist for their needs. Our outreach team connected with the community through 50 partner outreach events across the state. Through continued state investment in this partnership, DentistLink can continue to scale up and connect more Apple Health (Medicaid) enrollees to dental care. 

“DentistLink is a lifesaver. Without you I would probably never have seen a dentist. I’m so very grateful. You seriously saved my life.” 

DentistLink user
Colbert, WA 

Prevent tooth decay through community water fluoridation. 

Cavities are the most common chronic condition of childhood. While some may view cavities as an expected part of life, we know that tooth decay is largely preventable. Yes, a cavity-free childhood is possible! 

Community water fluoridation is the most effective and equitable way to ensure everyone benefits from this proven form of cavity prevention. In 2022, the state provided $532,000 for the Office of Drinking Water in the State Department of Health to establish a program to support local water systems and provide outreach on community water fluoridation. HB 1251/SB 5215 will further improve awareness for residents who already have access to fluoridated water. To use another classic saying, “Knowledge is power.” 

In addition to these oral health initiatives, I encourage our state policymakers to invest in other programs that support the health and wellbeing of children in underserved communities—including support for community health centers and school-based health centers, universal free school lunch, and funding a Medicaid-equivalent program for our immigrant community members.  

Do you or your child need support accessing dental care? Contact your local ABCD coordinator or receive a free referral through DentistLink at or by calling 844-888-5465. And what a better time to start your young one’s oral health care journey than in the month dedicated to their smile! 

Heather Gallagher is the Managing Director for the statewide Access to Baby and Child Dentistry (ABCD) program. In addition to ABCD, Heather has managed multiple programs with a focus on early supports for children and families.

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