Low-income North Carolinians face significant challenges accessing dental care, especially if they live in rural areas. In 2006, roughly 32% of North Carolina adults reported not visiting a dentist within the last year. Among minorities, the number who reported visiting a dentist within the past year was even lower (39% of Native Americans; 42% of African Americans; and 56% of Hispanics) – 22% reported that it had been at least five years since their last dental visit. Meeting the oral health needs of young children, older adults, people with disabilities, and other special populations is even more challenging. In 2007, nearly half (43%) of NC children ages 1-5 already had tooth decay, and 20% of children entering kindergarten had untreated tooth decay.
HWTF Solution (program description)
Recognizing the problems that these populations are facing, HWTF created the Oral Health Initiative (OHI) to help generate innovative solutions that improve access to care and ultimately, the oral health status of vulnerable and underserved North Carolinians. HWTF allocated $2.35 million for the following:
- Nearly $2 million was awarded to 7 grantees to:
- increase access to treatment and prevention services for low-income, high-need populations and/or
- develop/train the dental workforce (dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants) or broader health care workforce (physicians, nurses, physician assistants, etc.) to better address dental prevention and treatment for low-income, high-need populations.
- $350,000 was awarded to the Carolians Center for Medical Excellence to provide technical assistance and evaluation to applicants and grantees.
- HWTFC will also create a social marketing campaign to support prevention efforts.
For this initiative, low income is defined as having an income at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG); high-need populations are groups that are either low-income and underserved and/or part of a special population that is more likely to have oral health needs and is also underserved (e.g., elderly populations, people living in long-term care settings, people with developmental disabilities, infants and toddlers).