This is a guest post by Karen Cody Carlson, Executive Director of Oral Health Colorado, and a member of the CCMU board of directors.
As I’m preparing to retire from my position as Executive Director of Oral Health Colorado (OHCO), I’m taking time to reflect on what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown as a part of a very unique network of oral health advocates. First and foremost, as in any important work, it’s the people who have a passion for oral health who together have developed this strong and unified network. The stakeholders in this community are diverse, and include people connected to rural health centers, school based health centers, federally qualified health centers, independent nonprofits, public health, foundations, private practice dentists and dental hygienists, physicians, nurses, physician assistants, and consumers. We all work together to meet the oral health needs of Coloradans—and to finally eradicate dental disease—which is nearly 100% preventable, yet still so very prevalent.
By building trusting relationships and expanding networks, Colorado was able to achieve remarkable success in areas that impact oral health in recent years:
- The legislature approved a Medicaid adult dental benefit
- The waiting period for children enrolled in CHP+ was eliminated
- An oral health community grants program was created
- Medicaid reimbursement for oral health risk assessments, screenings, and fluoride varnish for children of all ages seen by primary care providers in school-based health centers was approved
- The Old Age Pension Dental Assistance Program was reinstated, with considerably more funding available
- A statewide oral health public will-building campaign was launched
The recent release of the 2013 Colorado Health Access Survey shows that there is still much work to be done. Since 2009, there is little change in the number of Coloradans with dental insurance and of those getting regular dental care. Furthermore, 17% of Coloradans report that their teeth and gums were in fair or poor health. Fortunately, when Governor Hickenlooper put oral health in the top third of the state’s winnable battles list in 2012, it created momentum towards a number of important successes. We also have a comprehensive Colorado Oral Health Plan to guide our work in the future.
Most importantly to me, I have had the great good fortune to meet and work with amazing oral health advocates throughout Colorado, and nationally. I feel privileged to have made so many connections with others who have shared my fervor for working toward broad and sustainable systems changes that will allow all Coloradans to achieve optimal oral health. I know that I am leaving our expanding oral health network in many capable hands.