OHA steps UP

March 21, 2012

Photo: Oral Health America President, CEO Beth Truett Many dental professionals are familiar with Oral Health America (OHA), which recently held its 20th annual Gala and Benefit during the Chicago Dental Society’s Midwinter Meeting. Yet most of you probably are not aware of all the programs offered by the OHA and the ways in which you can help. Dental Products Report asked OHA and its President and CEO, Beth Truett, to tell our readers about how the organization is working to make a difference.

Photo: Oral Health America President, CEO Beth Truett

Many dental professionals are familiar with Oral Health America (OHA), which recently held its 20th annual Gala and Benefit during the Chicago Dental Society’s Midwinter Meeting. Yet most of you probably are not aware of all the programs offered by the OHA and the ways in which you can help. Dental Products Report asked OHA and its President and CEO, Beth Truett, to tell our readers about how the organization is working to make a difference.

DPR:Can you offer a brief background of OHA for those not familiar with the organization?

Oral Health America is a national, non-profit charitable organization founded in 1955 and headquartered in Chicago. Our mission is to change lives by connecting communities with resources to increase access to oral healthcare, education and advocacy for all Americans, but especially those most vulnerable. Our long-term vision is a world free of oral disease.

Getting involved in OHA’s programs and supporting our mission is as easy as giving us a call at 312-836-9900 and starting a conversation about your work and interests, and how that can intersect with what we do every day. Our charitable practice areas are access, education and advocacy; we address oral health issues that affect Americans of all ages. Our specific demographic focus is people whose voices are ignored or not readily heard…at-risk children, older adults and their family groups. We also are focused on improving health outcomes by stimulating collaboration between physicians and dentists and addressing social behaviors that affect oral health, like tobacco cessation-particularly smokeless and spit tobacco among youth and their families. Our program to promote and fund school-based oral health preventive services, Smiles Across America® reaches communities in 27 states across the country.

DPR:Why is this an organization you wanted to lead?

After a rewarding career in for-profit businesses, I entered the non-profit sector as the Executive Director for a direct service agency serving 7,000 at-risk people in Chicago’s inner-city core-children in low-income schools, people who were aging, homeless and otherwise seeking hope and opportunities for better lives. We were frequently able to address the healthcare needs of our clients, but rarely able to coordinate life-changing dental care-care that could affect their ability to learn, eat properly, obtain jobs and have a sense of self-esteem that contributed to their full humanity. During that time, I was also elected to the Board of Voices for Illinois Children, the largest affiliate of Voices for America’s Children. Once again, I observed that advocating for healthcare rarely included oral health. So when Voices recommended me to the recruiters for Oral Health America, I was ready to address the challenge. I feel that I have come into the position at a momentous time in our country’s history, and that OHA has a unique opportunity to impact the prioritization of oral healthcare alongside other serious diseases, based on the organization’s history and mission.

One of my mentors suggested that a vocation that saves or changes lives is a powerful way in which to use one’s gifts. At OHA, I hope that my leadership, together with a dedicated staff and Board, might do both!

DPR:OHA has a long history of partnering with dental manufacturers. What programs specifically has the OHA developed and how are they helping improve oral health?

OHA is honored to have many years of support from many companies in the dental industry, and from the Dental Trade Alliance (DTA) itself. The American Dental Trade Association (ADTA), the DTA’s predecessor, was, in fact, one of OHA’s founders along with the American Dental Association, and American Dental Education Association (ADEA) and the William Wrigley Jr. Company. Our board of directors has strong representation from the dental industry, and today, 12 of our 18 Board Members are from companies that are industry leaders.

Funding from sponsors in the dental industry and beyond enables us to develop our five core programs: Campaign for Oral Health Equity, Medical Dental Dialogues, NSTEP® (National Spit Tobacco Education Program), Smiles Across America® (SAA), and the Wisdom Tooth Project for older adults.

SAA is currently our most visible program, reaching 250,000 children-and growing-with oral health promotion and oral disease prevention services in school-based or school-linked settings. Launched in 2004 with the Chicago Department of Public Health, Chicago Public Schools and community partners, SAA now provides grant funding, technical assistance and donated dental product to 97 treatment partners in 27 states annually. SAA is affording care for children who are unable to obtain routine dental care due to lack of resources, insurance, transportation, or because of low literacy or language barriers.

In 2009, our communications, media outreach and program with Trident® resulted in over 1 billion audience impressions, the most ever for an OHA program. We also welcomed new treatment partners in Dallas and in Inglewood, Calif. In 2010, the program will expand to at least six new sites.

Many of our long-time friends know us best for NSTEP, which was started to educate people, especially young people, about the health risks of spit tobacco use, and to help users quit. Our partnerships with organized baseball helped to educate professional baseball players about oral cancer and nicotine addiction, and the fact that “smokeless is not harmless.” We now work with Little League, and are gearing up for our ninth year of providing smokeless tobacco and oral health messaging to the 325,000 attendees of the Little League World Series in August 2010. A new partnership with the White Sox, and star pitcher John Danks, a former spit tobacco user, is allowing us to update our NSTEP public service announcements and our NSTEP educational materials, which are sold to schools and health departments throughout the country.

Also, OHA’s Medical Dental Dialogues communicates with medical and dental professionals about the integration of oral and systemic disease diagnoses, management and treatment. OHA is reaffirming our commitment to the oral health of older adults, the focus of our 2009 Medical Dental Dialogues, by launching the Wisdom Tooth Project. The project embodies educational and communications initiatives including regional symposia and the creation of online communities. The Wisdom Tooth Project will share promising partnerships and strategies, and promote consumer-oriented campaigns for our growing senior population and their families.

All of our programs benefit from the generosity of companies, and many of our sponsors provide both funding and “in-kind” support. This allows us to expand our reach and leverage community resources to the fullest extent. For example, in addition to grant funding, OHA provides over 300,000 units of donated dental product each year to sealant programs across the country through our Smiles Across America Product Donation Project.

When companies reach out to OHA, they can expect us to learn about their business practices and objectives. Today, corporate social responsibility must be focused on non-profits helping companies to “do well by doing good.” A number of companies have seen a direct impact on their sales growth due to a connection with our programs, and we hope that positive results will stimulate more investment in OHA. By developing creative and collaborative relationships with the dental trade and other related businesses, OHA will be the leading conduit for industry to impact the public good

DPR:Tell our readers a little more about the 20th annual Gala.

Our gala shined a special spotlight on our work with children in school-based and school-linked settings across the country, and gave attendees the opportunity to support a national program that is at work with at-risk children and families in schools, clinics and neighborhoods in their own communities.

Gala sponsors included DentaQuest, Patterson Dental, Ivoclar Vivadent, Midmark, 1-800-DENTIST, Colgate-Palmolive Co., Henry Schein Dental, Chicago Dental Society, Belmont Publications, SciCan, National Dentex Corp., Philips Sonicare, Unilever, Mr. and Mrs. Bernard J. Beazley, Burkhart Dental Supply, ConFirm Monitoring Systems, Argen Corporation, Tokuyama Dental, DENTSPLY International, GC America, Inc., DentalEZ Group, and OralDNA.

DPR:What is OHA looking forward to in upcoming months?

OHA is looking forward to Fall for Smiles, part of our Campaign for Oral Health Equity, which is bringing the dental industry together with our organizational partners representing the profession to promote four key oral health messages. Our primary partner in this campaign is the DTA’s Oral Healthcare Can’t Wait, which is working with OHA on a public opinion survey of parents and youth that will be released to kick-off the campaign. We are very excited about the many companies that are already jumping on board with funding and in-kind support for PR initiatives. The Fall for Smiles messages highlight the importance of self care, regular dental visits, healthy food choices and tobacco avoidance in maintaining a healthy mouth and body.

The OHA has many other programs planned for this year. Readers who are interested in keeping up with OHA can sign up for our e-Newsletter at oralhealthamerica.org. Follow OHA on Twitter at “Smile4Health,” and become a fan on Facebook! You can also find OHA on LinkedIn.

Contact OHA right away if you are interested in joining us as we speak up for oral health this Fall. Call Melissa Hoebbel at 312-836-9900, or email melissa@oralhealthamerica.org.

 

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