New Analysis Underscores The Need For Increased Focus On Oral Health, Including Experts In Leadership Positions
December 14, 2020, Washington, D.C. – Today, the Delta Dental Institute published findings from a new analysis that demonstrate the need for federal agencies to install oral health experts in leadership roles. In a review of twelve federal agencies that oversee oral health initiatives, the Delta Dental Institute found that only one currently has a Chief Dental Officer or equivalent, compared to seven with a Chief Medical Officer or equivalent. New Delta Dental Institute polling also finds strong support for federal policies to expand oral health access and affordability—which will require an increased focus on oral health and expertise within agencies to implement.
President-elect Joe Biden recently nominated several key health officials, including Xavier Becerra for Secretary of Health and Human Services and Rochelle Walensky for Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with more to come in the weeks ahead. As the incoming Administration's appointees prepare for their potential roles, the Delta Dental Institute is calling on them to keep oral health top of mind.
"Federal agencies play a foundational role in advancing the oral health of all Americans, and to effectively fulfill this role, it is essential they have oral health experts among their senior leadership," said Dr. Joseph Dill, Head of Dental Science at the Delta Dental Institute. "It's simple: oral health experts should oversee oral health programs."
As part of this analysis, the Delta Dental Institute examined twelve federal agencies that oversee health initiatives, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Health Resources and Services Administration, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Institute found that only two agencies have had a Chief Dental Officer or equivalent at any point in the past eight years, compared to eight that have had a Chief Medical Officer or equivalent over that same time period.
The analysis also found that federal agency funding for oral health initiatives is disproportionately low, and many agencies don't report a breakdown of their oral health funding at all. From 2012 to 2020, the average annual financing for oral health initiatives at the relevant agencies was less than 5% of their overall health funding. Furthermore, federal agencies publish substantially fewer reports and policy briefs focused on oral health than other health topics, indicating a troubling lack of attention to the topic. From 2012 to 2020, just one major oral health-focused report was published annually between all federal agencies that work on health issues.
"It's critical that federal agencies prioritize America's oral health and advance initiatives that expand access to affordable care," said Vivian Vasallo, Executive Director of the Delta Dental Institute. "Simply put, oral health is health. It's time for these agencies to recognize that by appointing oral health experts to their leadership, and increasing their focus on oral health initiatives."
Additionally, recent polling conducted by the Delta Dental Institute found that Americans overwhelmingly support federal policies to expand oral health access and affordability: 87% of Americans support legislation at the federal level that expands dental benefits to children, and 89% of Americans think dental benefits should be included in programs like Medicare and Medicaid. (The poll was conducted in fall 2020 with a sample size of 12,888.)
These findings clearly show the American people support federal agencies making oral health a key priority. As such, the Delta Dental Institute urges the following agencies to prioritize oral health in their leadership and funding decisions: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of State, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Health Resources and Services Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the National Institutes of Health Division of Clinical Research, and the Office of the Surgeon General.
"Oral health is critical to overall health, and by neglecting to adequately prioritize oral health issues these agencies are missing an opportunity to tackle overall health problems," added Dill. "This leadership gap impacts the strategic focus and funding of agencies. Delta Dental is willing and eager to be a partner in helping get oral health expertise at senior levels to better address oral health issues."
About the Delta Dental Institute
The Delta Dental Institute launched in 2019 to advance oral health for all Americans in partnership with Delta Dental companies and community partners across the country. With expertise rooted in Delta Dental's rich history of oral health leadership, the Delta Dental Institute engages in and supports oral health research, community engagement, and advocacy, striving to ensure all Americans can have the healthy smile they deserve and live their healthiest lives. Visit deltadental.com/institute for additional information.
About Delta Dental Plans Association
Delta Dental Plans Association, based in Oak Brook, Illinois, is the not-for-profit national association of the 39 independent Delta Dental companies. Through these companies, Delta Dental is the nation's largest dental insurance provider, covering more than 80 million Americans, and offering the country's largest dental network with approximately 156,000 participating dentists. In 2019, Delta Dental companies provided $76 million in direct and in-kind community outreach support to improve the oral health of adults, children, and infants in local communities across the country. Visit deltadental.com for information on individual dental insurance plans and group dental insurance plans.