Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease, with recent research suggesting it can lead to a wide variety of other health problems. Even though tooth decay is a preventable disease, many children face barriers that make it hard for them to obtain basic dental care. In particular, residents of isolated and rural communities, like Indian reservations, can be underserved. It’s estimated that millions of Americans live in areas with a shortage of dentists and that the U.S. could use an additional 9,000 dental-care providers.
In response, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation established a new dental therapy program for children in 2010, starting in five states. The program promotes prevention and builds understanding of the importance of dental health. It funds mobile dental vans to reach rural and underserved areas, plus dental education, training for “dental therapists” who can substitute for dentists in underserved areas, and educational grants for underrepresented minorities to attend dental school. The Kellogg Foundation has drawn lessons from philanthropy-assisted community programs used to bring good dental care to remote parts of Alaska (funded by the Rasmuson and then Robert Wood Johnson Foundations—see 2006 entry on Local Achievements list) and is now a leader in addressing this widespread but highly avoidable problem.
- Kellogg Foundation, wkkf.org/what-we-support/healthy-kids/dental-therapy.aspx