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Addressing Oral Health Disparities in Urban Settings: Applying the NPA Framework to Advance Access to Oral Health Care

posted Jun 11, 2018, 11:30 AM by daniel yoo   [ updated Jun 11, 2018, 11:39 AM ]
Posted by Christine Madrid Espinel, Health Program Specialist of the Utah Office of Health Disparities (OHD) and Co-chair of the Mountain States Regional Health Equity Council (RHEC VIII). RHEC VIII is one of 10 regional health equity councils (RHECs) formed in 2011 as part of the National Partnership for Action to End Health Disparities (NPA) and encompasses Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. 

Oral health impacts our self-esteem, school and work performance, and overall wellbeing. Oral diseases are linked with chronic diseases, like diabetes and heart disease. Despite major improvements in oral health for the population as a whole, disparities persist. Racial and ethnic minorities, low-income individuals and families, and otherwise vulnerable populations have poor oral health outcomes and access oral health services—care of teeth, gums, and mouth—at lower rates. Increasing access to oral health services by addressing the social determinants of health is one way to close oral health gaps, according to a white paper published by my colleagues from Utah Office of Health Disparities (OHD). 

In January 2018, Utah OHD released the white paper Addressing Oral Health Disparities in Urban Settings: A Strategic Approach to Advance Access to Oral Health Care,” which documents oral health disparities and outlines efforts to increase access to oral health services in urban settings. 

Utah OHD’s strategic approach includes providing access to oral health services and a trusted provider by addressing social, economic, geographic, cultural, and linguistic barriers to care. Through its free dental day clinics, Utah OHD provides short-term access to oral health services for vulnerable populations living in urban settings. The approach also includes strategic investments in improving health literacy for vulnerable populations as well as building oral health workforce capacity to serve these communities. This work drives the focus from providing short-term services to developing sustainable, systematic solutions for long-term access to oral health care. 

Notably, Utah OHD uses the NPA’s framework of five goals to encourage adoption of approaches in areas of (1) awareness, (2) leadership, (3) health systems and life experience, (4) cultural and linguistic competency, and (5) data research and evaluation.

Utah OHD released the white paper while applying the Office of Minority Health’s National Partnership for Action (NPA) framework on the frontlines to address oral health disparities in Utah. In 2015, Utah OHD joined the State Partnership Initiative to Address Health Disparities (SPI) and embarked on a five-year program, Bridging Communities and Clinics (BCC), in two of Utah’s most underserved communities. BCC applies the NPA’s framework to encourage the adoption of approaches in awareness and leadership, such as by facilitating dialogues between oral health providers and community members on oral health disparities. Through its free dental day clinics, the Utah OHD applies the health system and life experience approach by removing barriers to oral health care. Utah OHD promotes cultural and linguistic competency by involving providers and patients from a variety of races/ethnicities and language competencies. By utilizing Utah OHD’s approaches and application of the NPA framework, partners in other communities can also advance access to oral health care and address oral health disparities. 

On June 12, 2018, Oral Health America’s Webinar Series will host the webinar Oral Health Disparities in Urban Settings: A Strategic Approach to Access to Care, which will highlight the contents of Utah OHD’s white paper and share approaches tied to the NPA goals. To register for the webinar, visit: