Health Equity

Everyone deserves to be healthy — a healthy mind, a healthy mouth, a healthy body. But if we really mean everyone, health equity must be a priority.

You may have heard the term “health equity” and wondered why we use the word “equity” instead of “equality.” While both words denote fairness, equality indicates that everyone is treated the same way. On the other hand, equity refers to an environment in which people are treated differently with the intention of reaching the same goal for all people. Everyone starts with a different set of factors in their lives and therefore need different things to succeed, much like this illustration:
Equality vs. Equity illustration

Barriers to Health Equity
Achieving this level of equity is still a work in progress. Our most vulnerable communities are left behind in the current system, stuck in the reality of unmet needs. In fact, as of 2019, more than 74 million Americans didn’t have access to dental coverage — three times the number of people who are medically uninsured.
In some cases, lack of coverage is due to location. More than 45 million Americans live in areas that do not have an adequate number of dentists to serve the local population. And 43% of Americans living in rural areas lack access to dental care. Socioeconomic barriers, like transportation and job flexibility, contribute to the oral health inequities, too.
These barriers and gaps disproportionately harm poor Black and Brown Americans. For example, according to recent research from the CareQuest Institute for Oral Health:
  • Black adults are 68% more likely than white adults to have an unmet dental need.
  • Latino adults are 52% more likely than white adults to report having difficulty doing their job due to poor oral health.
  • Nearly 4 in 10 Black and Latino adults reside in the 14 states where Medicaid’s adult dental benefits cover no services or emergency-only care.
(DentaQuest is affiliated with CareQuest Institute, an industry advancing nonprofit.)
A Conversation with DentaQuest's Ambassador for Black Maternal Health Week
Dr. Amber Bonnaig, DentaQuest’s Dental Director in Georgia and ambassador for Black Maternal Health Week, discusses the importance of dental care during pregnancy, maternal health disparities and potential solutions on the horizon.
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Behind the Scenes with DentaQuest's Louisiana Dental Director
DentaQuest’s Louisiana Dental Director, Dr. Damien Cuffie, shares his unique path to dentistry, the role cultural competency and similarity play in health outcomes, and the challenges rural communities face when it comes to oral health.
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Health Equity Heroes
The DentaQuest Health Equity Hero award recognizes the community leaders who are inspiring collective action on behalf of our neighbors with the greatest needs and the fewest resources.
Learn more »

The barriers to care play a role in maternal health, too. Maternal mortality rates in America are the worst in the developed world, with 26.4 deaths per 100,000 live births. (In fact, while maternal mortality rates fell 44% around the world from 1990-2015, maternal mortality in the United States increased by 16.7%, making the United States the only developed country with a rising maternal mortality rate.) 
As alarming as these statistics are overall, the situation is even more dire for Black women, who are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications. Black women are also twice as likely to lose an infant to premature death. 
The connection to oral health is clear: Poor oral health raises a pregnant woman’s risk of high blood pressure, which can lead to major complications and even death. It also increases her risk of poor birth outcomes, such as low birth weight or premature birth.
And the same populations that face the highest rates of maternal mortality and poor birth outcomes also face higher rates of oral disease. For example, Black women, American Indian/Alaska Native women, low-income women, and women who rely on Medicaid for their health insurance are disproportionately likely to suffer from dental disease during pregnancy. These same groups of women are the least likely to be able to access dental care.


Health Equity Heroes
Every year, to help raise awareness of these equity issues and elevate changemakers across the country, DentaQuest recognizes leaders who go above and beyond to ensure access to equitable oral health care. We call them the DentaQuest Health Equity Heroes. These community leaders inspire collective action on behalf of our neighbors with the greatest needs and the fewest resources. 
In addition to celebrating and promoting the contributions of the Heroes, DentaQuest provides a $5,000 charitable contribution in the name of each hero to a nonprofit committed to promoting health equity. Read more about the 2020 Health Equity Heroes.
“DentaQuest’s mission to improve the oral health of all is rooted in the pursuit of equity,” says Steve Pollock, DentaQuest president and CEO.
At DentaQuest, we support health equity through a variety of initiatives and services, from donating dollars and time in local communities, to educating providers about new ways to deliver care. Ultimately, our collective work aims to level the playing field so that we all have a chance to live our best lives.