In 2023, the Project Protect Promotora Network received a Place-Based Access to Care grant from the Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation to improve access to educational information, resources, and oral health care in the San Luis Valley. Between June and September in 2023 Project Protect Promotoras assisted 66 community members in completing a bilingual survey of 10 questions regarding oral health and access to dental care.
The majority of respondents had a good sense of their oral health needs and how to take care of their teeth. People who had a more positive outlook on their oral health, were most likely to have been to the dentist at least once in the last year and least likely to have had severe dental pain in the past year. Of the total sample, 44% of people had visited the dentist at least once in the past year, frequently for cleanings, cavities, root canals, or extractions. 97% of respondents reported brushing their teeth at least once a day, most brushed twice a day. While many are in the habit of cleaning their teeth daily, they recognize that professional deep cleanings are important to improve their oral health.
Those who feel their oral health is “poor” or “fair” demonstrate a desire to change this with better care. However, these respondents frequently face barriers to visiting a dentist. One person explained,
“I rated my oral health 2 - Fair because I have not received my follow up for my cavities due to insurance reasons. I try my best to wash my teeth now and now have insurance that is a week old.” (Original English)
3 in 4 respondents who had not been to the dentist in the past year could point to specific barriers that prevented them from getting care. While it is evident that survey participants wanted to access oral health services, they had to contend with the substantial barriers of costly appointments and low availability.
“Personally, I need to clean [...] my teeth, but here in the Valley the appointments are distant and the repairs very expensive.” (English Translation)
English-speakers are more likely to have access to dental insurance than Spanish-speakers, with 75% of English speakers having insurance, compared to 48% of Spanish speakers. Further research is needed to understand how this disparity could be remedied.
Personal habits around sugar consumption and flossing did not reveal clear interventions for this population. Since the majority consume sugary foods and drinks twice a week or less, more research is needed to understand if reduction campaigns could affect these communities.
In summary, this research provided some clear points of intervention and support, and highlights where the community is already knowledgeable and resilient. These results don’t demonstrate a great need for further community education of oral health. A more useful approach to supporting our community would be interventions that increase access to insurance, or other services to offset dental appointment costs. Long wait times for dental appointments is a barrier to access, especially as low-income communities need to prioritize their work schedules. And, Spanish-speaking navigators may be vital to increasing oral health access for the Spanish-speaking community in SLV.