Despite coming from different backgrounds and experiences, it was clear the hundreds of attendees at the Multicultural Oral Health Summit all shared a common vision of increased access to quality oral health services and improvement of oral health for all.
The first-ever joint convention of the Hispanic Dental Association (HDA), the National Dental Association (NDA), and the Society of American Indian Dentists (SAID) took place in sunny Boca Raton, Fla., last month. I joined global health leaders, corporate partners, community leaders, foundations, and others from all over the nation to discuss ways to “collectively meet the needs of a diverse population to improve oral health.”
The Summit began with a powerfully symbolic prayer by Dr. George Blue Spruce, founder of SAID, and a posting of Latin American flags by two dozen members of the HDA. The musical interludes during the opening program were especially refreshing, featuring a flute player from the Seminole Tribe of Florida and a gospel ensemble from the area.
I attended the summit on behalf of the DentaQuest Foundation, which was recognized during the opening ceremony for its ongoing support of the three multicultural dental organizations and its commitment to improving oral health in underserved and diverse populations. I was joined by Fay Donohue, DentaQuest CEO and foundation board member, who accepted the award. By collaborating with the HDA, NDA, and SAID, the foundation continues to help promote public policy and other initiatives to support optimal oral health for everyone.
The foundation sponsored the summit’s two-part President’s Symposium. The first part was rich and layered, with powerful presentations by Sarita Arteaga, University of Connecticut associate clinical professor; Caswell Evans, foundation board member and Oral Health Alliance founder; and Dr. Spruce. Dr. Joan Y. Reeve of Harvard Medical School was a terrific moderator, framing the meeting as a provocative restating of the issues of health and focusing directly on dental care disparities. DentaQuest Foundation President Ralph Fuccillo facilitated a presentation on how to improve oral health access. Take-away points from the discussions will become the basis for future messaging and an eventual strategy plan aimed at improving overall oral health care access.
While I attended many of the events at the summit, two in particular were unforgettable. At the Annual Women Dentists’ Awards Brunch, I had the pleasure of sitting with the founder of this symposium event, Dr. Marie Holliday of Dallas, a Boston University and Tufts Dental School graduate. The group was organized to address the needs and concerns of African-American female practitioners—and to highlight and recognize their work.
I also enjoyed the Civil Rights Luncheon, which paid tribute to individuals who have fought for the civil rights and liberties of under-represented Americans throughout history. Orrin D. Mitchell, who was a pioneer in the fight against racial discrimination when he sought membership in the segregated Yacht club of Jacksonville, Fla., and Tom Joyner, whose syndicated radio show has been encouraging good health (and now hopefully oral health) practices, were awarded Civil Rights Awards. I was honored to be in the presence of so many distinguished leaders.
This historical event changed my perspective and made me hopeful for the future of oral health. As I have witnessed, we can collectively make a difference and help create brighter smiles for people of all walks of life.
Carmen Fields is the associate director of national programs at DentaQuest Foundation