Health Care

Oral health means better grades, better jobs and a lifetime of better overall health

Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease of childhood — more common than asthma — and it’s almost 100 percent preventable. Tooth pain causes uninsured adults to seek temporary relief in emergency departments and children to miss school at rates that impact achievement. Aside from the pain caused by disease, poor oral health impacts overall systemic health and has been linked to adverse and costly outcomes for other chronic conditions. Research finds that periodontal disease and oral infection is linked to poorer outcomes and higher cost for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and pregnancy among many other conditions. Not surprisingly, the burden of poor oral health is concentrated in underserved and low-income populations.

Strategy: Oral Health

The Foundation first prioritized a focus on oral health in 2009. Our current strategy emphasizes the importance of oral health literacy, access to preventive care, and access to timely and affordable treatment to reduce the pain and cost associated with delayed care for painful, yet preventable decay. This strategy recognizes that good oral health begins even before a child gets his or her first tooth, and is focused on preventing decay at the youngest ages while increasing access to dental homes to treat disease where it already exists. With a focus on increasing access to safety net dental homes that serve low-income populations, increasing awareness of the importance of prevention at the earliest ages and supporting public health leadership in the field of oral health, we aim to reduce disparities in oral health outcomes while reducing the overall burden of disease.  

Grantee Spotlights

Dental Safety Net

Safety net dental clinics that focus on strong business practices improve their financial viability and increase their capacity to provide dental homes to low-income adults who otherwise might seek treatment for dental pain in emergency departments. We have supported more than 31 safety net dental clinics to improve access to care and clinic sustainability through practice management support. In the first two years of this work, 10 clinics increased their aggregate bottom line by almost $1.5M and performed an additional 21,000 procedures, serving an additional 5,700 North Carolinians. Most recently, we added process improvement support to this effort with a group of seven safety net clinics.


We know that a mother’s oral health status is the strongest indicator of the future oral health of her child, so our approach includes a focus on new parents and prenatal providers. The Baby Oral Health Program (bOHP) educates dental health care providers on the principles of infant and toddler oral health in order for them to be comfortable and competent at providing preventive oral health services for young children. Absent this training, research indicates that many general dentists are not comfortable providing care to young children as recommended by both the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. The Prenatal Oral Health Program (pOHP) broadens this effort by providing resources for medical and dental health care providers on the principles and importance of prenatal oral health care and education.

NC Oral Health Collaborative

The North Carolina Oral Health Collaborative (NCOHC) was developed in 2013 to convene diverse stakeholders to improve oral health through improved oral health literacy and increased medical-dental collaboration, while bringing attention to the issue of oral health statewide. We supported the NCOHC’s communication efforts and strengthened its leadership capacity by providing training and one-on-one coaching. 

NCIOM Task Force on Children’s Preventive Oral Health Services

In 2012, the North Carolina Institute of Medicine convened a task force to make recommendations to support raising the proportion of Medicaid covered children who receive preventive dental services and specifically, sealants. With the goal of increasing the sealant rate from 17 percent to 27 percent among 6-9 year olds, the first year of reporting indicates that the rate has already increased to 20 percent. The Task Force was a collaborative effort with our foundation, the Division of Medicaid, the Oral Health Section within the North Carolina Division of Public Health, and the Office of Rural Health and Community Care. With 35 task force and steering committee members representing dental health professionals, state policy makers, public health, researchers, consumer representatives, and others, recommendations included revisions to Medicaid policy, licensing regulations and outreach and education to current providers. More information can be found on the NCIOM website.