Oral Health

Our goal within this priority area is that everyone in North Carolina has access to quality, affordable oral health services.

Oral health is inextricably linked to overall health and well-being. Poor oral health affects quality of life and school performance, decreases employment opportunities, can impact and signal a range of chronic diseases, and leads to substantial health care costs. A long-standing maldistribution of providers, dental professional shortages in both rural and urban settings, and inadequate numbers of providers accepting Medicaid insurance create barriers to care for many in North Carolina. The current state of the system poses challenges; however, it also positions the field to develop creative solutions to address them.

To improve oral health outcomes, preventive oral health services must be more accessible and affordable, in particular for those who face the most barriers. Efforts to achieve this should include a focus on workforce policy, payment methodologies, an increased emphasis on chronic conditions, and spreading new models of care – while accounting for the diverse perspectives and experiences of all patients.

At this time, our approach is focused on supporting changes to the practice and payment environment with the goal of making oral health care more accessible for everyone.  Specifically, this includes:

  • Supporting a network of organizations to identify and achieve system-level changes, targeting access and affordability.
  • Spreading models that integrate oral health care for parents and children into community settings.
  • Developing and strengthening safety net access points.

Examples of our Work in this Area

  • We continue to partner with the North Carolina Oral Health Collaborative to convene and build the capacity of stakeholders to achieve a shared policy agenda and to deliver continuing education to safety net providers focused on approaches that support the shift to value.
  • A fifth and final cohort of the School-Based Oral Health Initiative began in March 2023 and includes clinics in Buncombe, Granville, Mecklenburg, Vance, Wayne, and Wilson counties. Collectively, grantees supported by this initiative reach children in more than 300 schools by providing dental care in community-based settings.
  • A $500,000 grant to the North Carolina Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, is supporting two of their geographic regions to develop new or enhanced regional access points for oral health delivery.
  • Three recent safety-net focused grants will support new dental care access for up to 16,000 patients across five counties by June 2025.

In More Detail


Spotlight: School-Based Oral Health

The development and expansion of school-based oral health is one tool that schools and oral health providers are partnering on to expand access. The increase in implementation of the model creates some hope that future generations will be better positioned to achieve and maintain good oral health. Learn more.