Seattle/King County Clinic meets immediate needs, but more work toward sustainable care needed

By Vanetta Abdellatif and Luzmila Freese

Every year, Seattle Center hosts a four-day, pop-up clinic that attracts thousands of people. Seattle/King County Clinic (SKCC) provides free, quality dental, vision, and medical services for people who face barriers to care.

SKCC (Feb. 15-18)—a collaborative effort between the Seattle Center Foundation and thousands of compassionate health care professionals, volunteers, and community and health organizations—offers first come-first served care to all regardless of insurance or residence status or ability to pay. People who seek care at the clinic could be our neighbors, family, friends, and community members we all encounter each day: lower-wage workers, older adults on fixed incomes, young people just starting out, people with disabilities, and uninsured or underinsured households.

Arcora Foundation is once again a proud SKCC sponsor. Arcora’s SmileMobile—a dental office on wheels that travels across the state—will provide dental services at the clinic. For ongoing care, patients will have access to DentistLink—a no-cost referral service for people with Apple Health (Medicaid) or no insurance fully funded by Arcora and the Washington State Health Care Authority. Dental care historically is the most requested service at the clinic.

At the heart of the SKCC effort is a commitment to break down barriers to access care and ensure everyone can enjoy the benefits of improved health. This is a deeply personal matter for us.

We know firsthand that access to timely oral health services from providers who understand and care about you can change your life:

  • Vanetta—My family experienced many periods without dental insurance here in the U.S., and we frequently had to forego preventive care and regular dental visits. Fortunately, I grew up in a city where the water was naturally fluoridated, so we benefited from the protective qualities of a good balance of fluoride in our tap water. Fluoridation is an effective and equitable way to prevent tooth decay for people of all backgrounds.
  • Luzmila—I grew up in a developing country where preventive dental care was not a common practice. Dental visits were often reserved for situations when pain became unbearable or for emergencies. We did have fluoridated water and a health care system that provided based on a person’s health needs and not on their ability to pay. Through my work here in Washington state, I have witnessed the impact a simple 60-minute regular check-up and cleaning session can have on a person’s quality of life and general wellbeing. This sharp contrast in accessibility to dental and health care is what has and continues to inspire me to do this work. 

SKCC serves primarily King County residents. It also attracts people from across the state because they can get free care for immediate and unmet needs. But only 3,000 or so people who often must arrive before sunrise, wait in line for hours, and are fortunate enough to get admissions tickets will receive care. While the annual clinic excels at offering compassionate and quality care, waiting an entire year to access critical services at a temporary clinic is not good health policy. We must commit to make sustainable, long-term care options available to everyone, so that one day the SKCC is no longer needed.

The state legislature has shown their commitment and leadership to oral and overall health. In the 2023 legislative session, lawmakers approved $500,000 over the 2023-2025 biennium to continue the public-private partnership so DentistLink can continue to connect more patients to care. In recent sessions lawmakers have significantly increased our state’s investment in both the pediatric and adult Apple Health (Medicaid) dental programs with the goal of increasing access to care. And we are excited about the Apple Health Expansion later this year, which will extend Medicaid-similar coverage, including dental, to  even more people who face challenges to access care.

These are important and exciting steps forward. We call on policy makers, providers, and patient advocates to continue to collaborate to make more sustainable investments in care. Supporting capital investments at local community health centers and the University of Washington’s Regional Initiatives in Dental Education (RIDE) program can expand access to communities facing the greatest dental care needs in rural, suburban, and urban communities.

As we celebrate the accomplishments of SKCC, it is imperative to also recognize the work we must do so that no one is left behind. We must be bold and dare to rethink the way we approach health care delivery, emphasizing the importance of policies and expanding access that furthers health equity.

Vanetta Abdellatif is president and CEO of Arcora Foundation—the state’s largest foundation dedicated to advance oral health—whose mission is to bend the arc of oral health toward equity.

Luzmila Freese is community programs director at Latino Community Fund, whose mission is to cultivate new leaders, support cultural and community based non-profit organizations, and improve the quality of life for all Washingtonians. 

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

Celebrate Black history, recognize the importance of kid’s oral health in February

February is a time for double celebration!

Black History Month honors Black people’s contributions to and place in American history. National Children’s Dental Health Month spotlights the importance of good oral health for the youngest members of our communities.

Through our equity-led initiatives and programs, Arcora Foundation is committed to improve the oral and overall health of Black people and children. We partner with policy makers, state agencies, and community-based organizations to eliminate disparities and develop sustainable solutions so everyone in Washington state can reach their full health potential with no one left behind.

Access to Baby and Child Dentistry (ABCD), community water fluoridation, DentistLink, and MouthMatters is just some of our work that addresses disparities. Learn more about our programs and initiatives.

For Black History Month and National Children’s Dental Health Month, we’re pleased to celebrate the work of our partners at Children’s Alliance—a statewide child advocacy organization. Executive Director Dr. Stephan Blanford explains what he does, why he does it, and how Arcora helps make it possible.

“I’ve been a child advocate for nearly 25 years now. Before this role I was an education researcher, an elected school board director and a direct service provider. Though it may sound cliché, I do this work to pay back all those who have invested in me and my family. And to help create Rev. [Dr. Martin Luther] King [Jr.]’s ‘beloved community.’

“Like a point guard in basketball, I coordinate the passion, energy and talents of our staff, board, partners and 7,000 members across the state to achieve wins in the state legislature. These wins come in the form of policies that improve conditions for the state’s 1.7 million children, with a specific focus on those children and their families furthest away from their vast potential.

“[Arcora] Foundation’s support allows Children’s Alliance to engage and mobilize those communities, amplifying our influence with legislators.”

Dr. Stephan Blanford, Executive Director, Children’s Alliance

“Too many Black people live at the intersection of poor oral health and other societal mistreatments—among them, poverty, residential segregation, and poorly funded schools. And all of us face the insidious impacts of individual and institutional racism. Therefore, it is so, so important that we work relentlessly to recognize and eliminate these barriers. And that we, individually and collectively, hold our leaders accountable to take action on our behalf.

“As someone who has suffered when I didn’t have dental insurance or money to pay for a dentist visit, I know personally (and painfully) what lack of access means. And as an education researcher, I know that poor oral health access can lead to a lifetime of negative consequences for students and adults, impacting every aspect of their lives. 

“Arcora Foundation recognizes how critical oral health is in the overall health of children, their families and communities. Like Children’s Alliance, they focus their efforts on communities where access to critical services is limited to ensure that all residents of those communities can access good oral care. The Foundation’s support allows Children’s Alliance to engage and mobilize those communities, amplifying our influence with legislators.”

Dr. Stephan Blanford is executive director of Children’s Alliance. The organization helps people tap into their personal political power so they can advocate for change in their communities.

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

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

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

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