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

Health literacy and outreach key to good oral health in the AANHPI community

Sunshine Monastrial and family enjoy a beach outing.

Nonprofits leverage Arcora project grants and community expertise to improve oral and overall health for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander community members. 

Hi there! I’m Sunshine, Arcora Foundation’s vice president. I’m honored to share a bit about my background and introduce 2 organizations working to remove barriers to good oral and overall health for our state’s Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI*) community. 

As an immigrant from the Philippines, cavities were an expected part of my childhood. My family and I weren’t taught about the importance of prevention until we started seeing a dentist in the U.S. My young smile had several cavities from eating too much candy and not enough brushing and flossing. Thankfully, our new family dentist was able to address these cavities and start me on a path to good oral health. 

I’m grateful to my parents for ensuring that my sister and I started seeing the dentist early on after we arrived in the U.S. But for too many families, barriers to care continue to exist. In Washington state, kindergarten and third-grade children whose primary language spoken in the home is not English have more than a 50% higher rate of treatment need for oral health concerns than English-only speakers. 

We also see racial and ethnic disparities impacting our state’s Pacific Islander communities. Among second and third graders, 75% of Pacific Islander children live with untreated oral disease —a condition that is largely preventable with equitable access to dental care and at-home oral hygiene supplies. 

“Oral disease disproportionally affects the poor and socially disadvantaged members of our community. There is a very strong and consistent association between socioeconomic status (income, occupation, and educational level) and the prevalence and severity of oral diseases. That is why Arcora Foundation partners with organizations across the state with a focus on good oral and overall health for all with no one left behind.”

Carol Nelson
Arcora Foundation Trustee

Arcora partners with community-based organizations to remove barriers and ensure people of all backgrounds have the education and access to care they need to reach their full health potential. This approach is grounded in our 2022-2024 strategic plan.

*Note: The term “AANHPI” highlights the collective strength and advocacy of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities. Arcora recognizes the power of this larger group while also advocating for more disaggregated data around race. Through disaggregated data, we can better identify and address inequities of various communities that fall within the AANHPI community.

Removing barriers to health literacy and culturally appropriate care. 

During my 11 years at International Community Health Services, I saw how multiple, intertwined barriers to care can impact the health outcomes of the AANHPI community. Like my own childhood experience, Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants may come from cultures where the importance of prevention in oral health isn’t emphasized—or the health care system is structured much differently than in the U.S. 

Along with this cultural difference, it can be difficult to navigate a health care system when English is not your primary language. In the U.S., an overwhelming majority of Asian immigrants (86%) say they speak a language other than English at home, along with more than 25% of Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders. Linguistically and culturally appropriate care is critical to improve health equity for a large percentage of our state’s population. 

Arcora is pleased to support community-based nonprofits through our project grant funding. I invite to you to now meet 2 amazing organizations leading efforts to address these barriers—including language and culturally appropriate services—for their Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander community members. 

UTOPIA team members host outreach table at Burien Pride.

UTOPIA Washington

Mission: Actively replacing systems of oppression with ecosystems of care and safety for all our communities through Black and Brown organizing, prioritizing land and bodily autonomy, and reclaiming our cultural narratives.

Vision: A world of abundance, autonomy, and harmony, where all forms of supremacy cease to exist for all life.

Tell us about UTOPIA’s oral health project.

“With the help of Arcora’s project grant funding, UTOPIA Washington aims to provide community (Queer and Trans Pacific Islanders, Queer and Trans BIPoC, and all 2SLGBTQIA+) education and information surrounding oral health care access. We’ll do this through an approach and health initiative that is culturally sensitive and culturally informed. 

“This multi-pronged approach will include several key components: a needs assessment survey, case management, client assistance, and an educational community outreach campaign. Through these efforts, we can best understand and address the unique needs of our community members and the barriers that surround access and availability of dental care. UTOPIA will provide for the needs of community when accessing dental care in the forms of transportation, client resource coordination, childcare, and in-depth case management.

“The goals of this project are: 

  • Capture accurate and up-to-date data and analysis of queer and trans Pacific Islander and BIPoC 2SLGBTQIA+ community members access to and barriers surrounding oral health care. 
  • Increase and improvement of community education and awareness of oral health care information, access, and availability. 
  • Continue to assess and provide resources for dental and medical care information through case management and care work coordination.
  • Use culturally informed and sensitive language translations and interpreters for survey, case management, and distribution of data/informational campaigns (in various Pacific Islander languages).”

What would you like others to know about UTOPIA, your community, and your work to improve health equity?

“Since its inception, UTOPIA Washington’s work has been steeped in the barriers, challenges and experiences of QTPI/QTBIPoC (Queer and Transgender Pacific Islanders/Queer and Transgender Black, Indigenous, People of Color) who face pervasive racism, xenophobia, homophobia and transphobia in ways that impact their safety, health, sense of wellness, and desire to build a positive future for themselves and their families here in the diaspora and back in their island nations.

“We also understand that band-aid solutions need to be coupled with strategies that get at the root of all forms of supremacy. UTOPIA offers our services to all, but are aware, mindful, and wanting to also make a positive impact on immigrant, refugee, and communities of color. As the targets of many oppressions, our community is at risk. This is why UTOPIA is such an essential landing place for the QTPI and QTBIPoC community in the region. We provide healing spaces and serve as a trusted, culturally aligned resource for QTPI/QTBIPoC to access HIV+ prevention resources, health services, behavioral health support, housing and other essential services, education and youth outreach, policy, systems, and legislature education and advocacy, and a caring community.”

CISC hosts health care workshop.

Chinese Information and Service Center (CISC)

Mission: We support immigrants and their families by creating opportunities for them to succeed, while honoring their heritage.

Tell us about CISC’s oral health project.

“With Arcora project grant funding, CISC will provide person-centered support to assist community members with dental care needs, from information and consultation to appointment and transportation scheduling with dental clinics and care facility when needed. CISC clients without dental coverage will be connected to free resources such as community health clinics, University of Washington and King County Public Health dental clinics, or other oral health programs.

“CISC clients can make appointments with our program specialist who will help them navigate the often complicated and intimidating health care system, including applying for Medicaid and Medicare, finding a provider, translation of health care documents, transportation assistance, and more. To ensure success, our team will support clients through the enrollment process and follow up with their cases to monitor their progress.

“Our goal is to make sure everyone will have access to equitable dental service and care.”

What would you like others to know about CISC, your community, and your work to improve health equity?

“CISC’s Healthcare Access and Outreach Program connects ethnic Chinese immigrants to quality and affordable health care through education, information, outreach, and individualized, person-centered support. We strive to advance access to equitable health care by breaking down cultural, language, and technology barriers for our clients and addressing their overall health and wellness needs to reduce health disparities. Through a holistic, bilingual/bicultural approach, we ensure that fair and unbiased health care services are available in the community, regardless of language, ethnicity, gender, income, social, and/or economic status.

“Moreover, our ‘No Wrong Door’ policy creates a flexible, person-centered response to meeting the health care needs of our community. CISC helps to eliminate gaps in services and programs that can arise when working with multiple agencies and/or agencies that are not able to provide culturally responsive services, thus increasing equity in health care.

“We understand that oral health is important for overall health and wellbeing, and poor oral hygiene can have a negative impact on quality of life. Therefore, we educate and promote public awareness of good oral hygiene, so people can have better overall health and reduce the risk of certain illnesses.”

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.

How public health supports equity in oral health

Community leadership and expertise are key to prevent disease and improve access to dental care.

Good oral health is more than a healthy smile. Where we live, learn, work, worship, and play affect our oral and overall health. During National Public Health Week, Arcora Foundation recognizes how our unique cultures and communities not only influence our wellbeing—but give us the tools to thrive.

What is public health?

Public health promotes and protects your health and your community’s health. The focus is on disease prevention and healthy behaviors. Examples of how public health impacts oral health include:

  • Expanded access to fluoridated tap water, which is the most cost-effective and equitable way to prevent cavities for people of all backgrounds.
  • Free dental clinics hosted at community gathering spaces, such as food banks and community centers.
  • Health education, outreach, and care navigation provided in languages spoken in a community.
  • Awareness campaigns on the health impacts of choosing water over sugary beverages.

“Good oral health is essential to good overall health. The State Department of Health and Arcora Foundation share the belief that everyone in Washington deserves a healthy smile. I’ve appreciated the partnership with Arcora over the years on efforts that support good oral health as a public health priority. That work includes the Smile Survey, assisting local water systems with community water fluoridation, supporting the Washington State Oral Health Coalition, and more. Our work together continues to ensure everyone has the prevention and access resources they need for a lifetime of good oral health.”

Shelley Guinn RDH, MPH
State Oral Health Program Coordinator
Washington State Department of Health

Arcora partners with state and local organizations to champion these and other public health efforts. Community-based solutions and respect for cultural norms and values can lead to the most meaningful progress. Through community learning grants and engagement opportunities, we center lived experiences in ongoing, collaborative partnerships to improve oral health outcomes.

Community health workers: innovators in public health.

Community health workers (CHWs) are trusted public health advocates and community navigators. One longstanding and valued partner, Community Health Worker Coalition for Migrants and Refugees (CHWCMR), leads innovative CHW practices to achieve health equity and social and environmental justice for migrant and refugee communities in Washington state.

Ileana Ponce-Gonzalez, founder and executive director of CHWCMR, explains the key role CHWs play in improving public health.

How do CHWs support public health?

Community health workers are trusted members of the community. They act as public health professionals, come from the communities in which they carry out their work, and act as defenders or representatives of community members. They bring together individuals in need of health care, helping them understand and have access to health education and services. Here are three ways CHWs promote public health:

1. Provide reach and cultural links that go beyond the traditionally underserved communities to increase access to care, ease of use, and use of health resources.

2. Reduce costs to both providers and patients through prevention, health education, and early detection of disease and medical care emergencies.

3. Help the communication between patient and provider, facilitate continuity of care, and act as advocate and guide for the patient within the health care system to improve the quality of care.

What challenges do migrants and refugees face in achieving good oral and overall health?

CHWCMR has more than 11 years of working with migrant and seasonal farm workers in our state. People we work with can have financial and language barriers. Health care providers can lack empathy for them, which can make them feel lost and resigned. Because they live in rural areas, this population can face additional barriers that include:

  • Access to fresh food—processed foods as alternatives, which can be high in preservatives and salt.
  • Safe drinking water—sugary beverages as alternatives, which pose risk factors for cavities, diabetes, and other health concerns.
  • Access to care—Washington has many Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs). For communities such as Vista Hermosa in Pasco, the nearest FQHC is 40 miles away.

CHWs are essential to work against these barriers. Our farmworkers, migrants, and refugees have limited time to make medical or dental appointments, and many of them lack transportation and housing.

How has partnering with Arcora Foundation supported CHWCMR’s work to improve oral and overall health for migrant and refugee community members?

Since 2017, CHWCMR has collaborated with Arcora Foundation to improve oral health in migrant and underserved populations. We worked together on a series of project and community-based oral health education programs. All our programs use a CHW model. Here are some examples:

  • 2023—project to decrease consumption of sugary beverages, increase consumption of fluoridated water, and make dentist appointments through Arcora’s DentistLink tool for 20 participants.
  • 2021—conducted an oral health needs assessment in Spanish of 91 participants by phone in the Tri-Cities and Olympia and King, Pierce, Skagit, Snohomish, and Yakima counties.
  • 2017-2020—workshops taught 784 participants about the importance of good oral hygiene, regular dental visits, and healthy eating and drinking habits through 36 workshops.

Excerpt from CHW training flipbook

“Thank you for giving us the opportunity to improve oral health disparity in this state. We need more support because the gap between oral health education and services and our community is abysmal. We need not only economic support, but also organizations like Arcora to advocate for our work and accomplishments. We are the people on the front lines, the ones who know and work with the community.”

Ileana Ponce-Gonzalez, MD, MPH
Founder and Executive Director
Community Health Worker Coalition for Migrants and Refugees

Centering communities and cultures in strategic direction.

Arcora strives to demonstrate a greater capacity for equitable practices and public health policies to better engage with communities as an authentic partner. We center community expertise in our work to achieve good oral health for those who face barriers to dental care—especially in Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. We invite you to visit our 2023 Community Report to learn more about recent milestones toward a healthier, more equitable future for all.

About National Public Health Week

During the first full week of April each year, the American Public Health Association brings together communities across the United States to observe National Public Health Week as a time to recognize the contributions of public health and highlight issues that are important to improving our nation’s health. For 2023, we are “Centering and Celebrating Cultures in Health” to ensure everyone, in all cultural communities, has a chance at a long and healthy life. To do so, we must address and prevent the underlying causes of poor health and disease risk. We can use social determinants of health to understand how those causes are different for each person based on various factors like race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and financial situation.

Celebrate Black History Month with a commitment to improve oral health for Black people

A Black father kisses his daughter in front of a lush green tree. The daughter is smiling wide and wearing a white dress.

Andrew Lofton and Kimberly Wilson—Arcora Foundation board members—share the importance of good oral health for Black people.

Black history is U.S. history.

Each February, Black History Month allows time to reflect on Black people’s contributions to our country. Medicine, science, civil rights, politics, business, the arts—Black voices have added to and advanced the richness of our country. Arcora Foundation celebrates the integral role of the Black experience in U.S. history. 

Oral health is overall health. 

Just as Black history is U.S. history, oral health is overall health. Arcora has taken intentional steps to improve oral health outcomes for Black people. We’re deepening relationships with Black communities across Washington state and the organizations that serve them. Our partners share our view that good oral health is good overall health. But data show that Black, Indigenous, and people of color face barriers to good oral health. Arcora’s 2022-2024 strategic plan details our plan to bend the arc of oral health toward equity through our prevention and access work. 

This Black History Month, our Board of Trustees Chair Andrew Lofton and Board Member Kimberly Wilson reflect on their involvement with Arcora and the importance of oral health for Black people. 

Andrew Lofton

“Black people have opportunities for advancement in so many areas in our society. Oral health is one of them. Good oral health is just one of the building blocks for good overall health. Poor health outcomes have implications for Black people in all walks of life. Those poor outcomes can be debilitating, expensive, and create additional barriers for Black people to reach their goals. 

“I became interested in Arcora Foundation because of their work to expand access—especially for BIPOC populations. I first learned about Arcora while I worked at the Seattle Housing Authority. At the time, the Authority was exploring ways to support families that are low income achieve better overall health outcomes. I discovered Arcora’s work to increase access to oral health care, its emphasis on underserved populations, and the role oral health care plays in good health outcomes. 

“Good oral health means opportunities to treat problems and diseases before they become significant health issues. It also means access to quality oral health whether you have insurance or your ability to pay. From my work at the Authority, I was acutely aware that low-income families and communities are often disproportionately denied access and opportunities to services that affect their overall health.  Arcora was and continues to be an organization working to change that. Arcora centers its work in equity to achieve good oral health for everyone.”

Andrew Loften is the active Arcora Foundation Board of Trustees chair. He served as the Executive Director of the Seattle Housing Authority from 2012 until his retirement in 2021.

Kimberly A.C. Wilson

Kimberly Wilson

“As an African-American woman who grew up without fluoridated water, and whose grandparents had lost several of their teeth before I was born, oral health is really important to me. 

“Those with the least access to preventive services and dental treatment have the greatest rates of oral disease. Education level, income, ethnicity are all reflected in oral health access statistics but race is especially acute: African Americans have some of the poorest oral health outcomes of any racial or ethnic group in the U.S. The numbers tell a grim story: 

  • Which children experience the greatest disparity with tooth decay in this country? African Americans.
  • Which group has a higher prevalence of periodontal disease than almost all other racial groups? African Americans.
  • Among Americans aged 20-65, which racial/ethnic group experiences untreated tooth decay at nearly twice the rate of white Americans? And which seniors suffer total tooth loss at almost double the rate of white individuals over age 65? Again, Black Americans.
  • The five-year survival rate among white American men diagnosed with oral pharyngeal cancers is 61 percent. For Black men, the rate is just over half of that, at 36 percent.

“These outcomes have a real cost on our socio-emotional and psychological health, along with our general wellbeing. Two in every five middle-aged adults in the U.S. report that dental issues result in pain, eating problems and missed work. For little ones, oral health issues can keep them home from school or unable to participate fully.

“Joining Arcora’s Board of Trustees was meaningful to me because these outcomes impact the quality of life for members of my community. Arcora’s approach to advancing oral health in Washington through equity makes sense. Moreover, it helps to change outcomes for the most vulnerable communities, including mine.”

Kimberly A.C. Wilson is the Executive Director of Hedgebrook, a literary nonprofit whose mission is to support visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come.

Want to deepen your understanding of Black people’s contributions to U.S. history? The Association for the Study of African American Life and History—which also describes how Black History Month came to be and lists themes for each year—is a good place to start. 

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.

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 DentistLink.org 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.