A new effort will focus on improving oral health in western North Carolina.
The North Carolina Oral Health Collaborative (NCOHC), a program of the Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation (FHLI), has secured funding to begin tackling the complex needs of people seeking oral health services in our region.
NCOHC aims to build an oral health care system that challenges the current oral health status and care delivery environment, affects change in organizational culture, and supports evidence-based best practices, according to a news release.
The roughly $740,000, three-year grant from the Dogwood Health Trust represents the nonprofit foundation’s continued recognition of oral health as a significant component in advancing overall health, well-being, and quality of life in western North Carolina.
NCOHC will administer the grant through its regional extension, the Western North Carolina Oral Health Collaborative (WNCOHC). WNCOHC’s work will focus on marginalized populations, including the uninsured and underinsured, those with low socioeconomic status, rural residents and ethnic and racial minorities across 18 counties — including McDowell — and the Qualla Boundary.
Central to WNCOHC’s efforts to address the social determinants of health, the funding will support a Patient Advocate Pilot Program, an innovative model for care coordination and case management, deepening the region’s referral network.
Western North Carolina residents face particularly significant disparities in oral health care access and outcomes.
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, less than half of adults in western North Carolina have access to dental insurance. Nearly a quarter of adults over 65 in the region have had all their permanent teeth extracted compared to 17.4% statewide.
“As deep as the inequities are in western North Carolina, so is the resiliency and resolve of the region’s communities to create meaningful and lasting change,” said Dr. Zachary Brian, director of NCOHC and vice president of impact, strategy, and programs at FHLI.
“We’re thrilled to partner with the Dogwood Health Trust to take a systems-level approach to advance oral health and health equity in the region.”
In 2018, The McDowell News reported there were 1.5 dentists per 10,000 people locally. The national average was 6.1 dentists per 10,000 people.
Many disparities in oral health outcomes are driven by the social determinants of health — environmental and economic factors outside of health care facilities that impact a person’s health, well-being, and quality of life. These factors include limited access to transportation, low-provider density (especially in rural areas), and financial strain, all of which are especially prevalent in the western part of the state.
“Dogwood Health Trust’s board understands that access to quality oral health care is a cornerstone for overall health and wellness,” said Dr. Susan Mims, interim CEO of Dogwood Health Trust. “We are thrilled to be able to support this WNC Oral Health initiative, particularly in historically under-resourced communities, and are eager to see how the Patient Advocate Pilot Program can leverage dental visits to connect individuals and families with even more resources for support and health.”
“This program will transform access and adherence to comprehensive dental treatment, and with so many individuals in need of timely care, this intervention could not be more welcome,” said Dr. Alex Green, dental director of the Mountain Community Health Partnership and WNCOHC Steering Committee member. “And, perhaps more importantly, it will demonstrate the importance of offering tailored attention many folks need to navigate the oft-complex world of oral health care and help sustain this model for the long term.”