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Foundation Receives $200,000 Delta Dental Grant

March 6, 2016


Photo courtesy Central Lakes College

Award will be dispersed to St. Cloud Technical & Community College and Central Lakes College in Brainerd to promote greater student diversity in dental education programs

The Initiative Foundation, a regional foundation with a focus on economic and community development in the 14 counties of Central Minnesota, has been awarded a $200,000 Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation grant to promote greater student diversity in dental assistant and hygienist programs at St. Cloud Technical & Community College (SCTCC) and Central Lakes College (CLC) in Brainerd.

"For the past three years the Initiative Foundation has been working to raise awareness of the importance of early childhood dental hygiene, and to reduce barriers to young children for whom poverty, language, culture or distance to a dental provider prevents quality care," said Kathy Gaalswyk, president of the Initiative Foundation. "One of the barriers that we've found is that lack of diversity in the dental workforce can itself represent a challenge due to language or cultural differences. With the generous support of the Delta Dental Foundation and our higher education partners we will be able to open doors to opportunities for young professionals, while also creating greater cultural diversity and agility within the sector."

In partnership with SCTCC and CLC, the Diversity of the Dental Workforce in Central Minnesota project will increase the racial, ethnic and gender diversity of students working toward dental careers. The project will offer opportunities for interested students to engage in social activities, tutoring and other best practices. Both SCTCC and CLC will promote their respective dental assistant and hygienist programs in high schools. They'll also promote the project during cultural events, they'll develop recruiting and retention processes to ensure that students successfully complete their dental programs, and they'll help graduates secure employment in the region.

SCTCC will focus on engaging the St. Cloud area's East African population while CLC will place an emphasis on the American Indian and Latino populations in its region. Education and opportunity for all, though, is the utmost goal.

"Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation is committed to increasing access to dental care for all Minnesotans," said Joe Lally, interim executive director, Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation. "While Minnesota leads the nation in many respects, there are still regional and ethnic health disparities. By helping create a dental team which better reflects the community, more members of the community will be aware of and will have access to better oral health care."

In alignment with the Initiative Foundation's Early Childhood Initiative and its Early Childhood Dental programs, the project will help to ensure that children who currently are unserved or underserved, and whose health and educational opportunities are compromised due to poor oral care, will be healthier and more likely to achieve school success.

Terri Konczak, early childhood dental specialist at the Initiative Foundation, said the importance of quality oral care, especially among children, cannot be overstated. "Left unchecked, poor oral health can negatively affect a child's overall development and has been linked to several chronic diseases in adulthood, including diabetes and heart disease," she said.

In fact, a study in the journal Pediatrics found that when risk factors are not addressed, tooth decay progresses steadily and affects 11 percent of children at the age of 2 and 44 percent by age 5. And as the problems caused by early childhood cavities compound, so do the costs and complications of treatment. Getting care for an infected tooth in a hospital emergency room, where many pediatric dental patients will wind up, can cost 10 times that of the original preventive care-$6,498 vs. $660, according to one study.

The Initiative Foundation has built a coalition of dental practitioners, public health officials and other community leaders to identify and remove the roadblocks that get in the way of providing quality oral healthcare. Since launching the program in early 2014, the Early Childhood Dental Network coalition has championed educational opportunities for early childhood providers and Women, Infant and Children (WIC) staff; participated in before- and after-school programs to teach healthy tooth-brushing techniques; and provided education, and partnered with organizations to provide screening and dental exams for families with young children.

"These additional funds from Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation will allow us to address another considerable barrier: The need to educate and integrate dental assistants and hygienists into the workforce who truly reflect the communities in which they live," Konczak said. "Our big aspiration is to better serve all who are in need of care."

About Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation

To learn more, visit deltadentalmn.org/commitment-to-the-community.

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