Understanding communities to address dental health equity
GEHA | October 30, 2023
By John A. Johnson, MD, MBA, FACP
Chief Medical Officer of Government Employees Health Association (GEHA)
The original version of this editorial was published in Oral Health Kansas' weekly newsletter on October 11, 2023.
At GEHA, we advocate for "health equity," which means that we want everyone to have a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. This requires an intentional mindset.
Dental health equity poses a multi-pronged challenge: there is a shortage of dentists and dental hygienists in general. Specifically, there is a growing gap in minority representation in these fields. Compounding this issue, underrepresented communities often receive less dental care due to everyday factors like lack of access in communities.
It's important to provide awareness and education of the resources available so that people can take control of their health. This means understanding the individual communities that we each serve. By emphasizing resources and building trust with people in communities, we can provide the quality dental care that our members deserve.
Here at Government Employees Health Association (GEHA), we know that quality care is best achieved when there is an understanding of the member and the community that they live in. This includes understanding the perspectives, barriers and access limitations of those within underrepresented communities. In the past 18 months alone, to help provide more equitable oral health and dental hygiene care, GEHA and GEHA Solutions, Inc. (an indirect, wholly-owned subsidiary), has committed itself to supporting and diversifying the dental industry through the following:
- Initiating a relationship with the University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC) School of Dentistry to help provide more than 40 scholarships and pipeline fellowships to ensure that diverse individuals can continue their education in the dental health field. After committing $370,000 to this project, the 2023-2024 incoming dental school class saw a 400% YOY increase in the number of historically underrepresented students.
- Supporting dental hygiene necessities by providing nearly 80,000 toothbrushes and toothbrush caps to veterans, unhoused, and historically underserved communities throughout America.
- Providing $100,000 in scholarships and continuing education funding with Browngirl, RDH (Registered Dental Hygienist).
- Contributing 20,000 mouthguards to Chiefs Flag Football, Powered by GEHA youth players. The mouthguards continue to be distributed to Kansas and Missouri gender-equitable sports programs and are a testament to the commitment to fostering a safe and inclusive environment for all.
- Expanding investments into the concept of "food as medicine" for historically underserved communities via neighborhood orchards and community gardens, and support for diet-treated health conditions. Our partners include The Giving Grove, Kansas City Community Gardens, and the Food Equality Initiative, knowing that food choices and access are important in minimizing tooth decay and creating quality oral health.
These types of efforts can make an immediate difference in the community, and we look forward to seeing the long-lasting effects.