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Driving the oral health equity movement: the DentaQuest Foundation's third annual national convening

Jan. 5, 2016
Last fall, the DentaQuest Foundation hosted its third annual Oral Health 2020 National Network Gathering in New Orleans. The largest convening of this network ever conducted, this three-day event gathered together diverse partners working in the oral health movement.

Attendees at the DentaQuest Foundation’s third annual Oral Health 2020 National Network Gathering joined keynote speaker Dr. Camara Jones from the Morehouse School of Medicine during the convening. (Pictured from left to right): Jen Willsea, Interaction Institute for Social Change; Lacey McNary, Kentucky Youth Advocates; Parrish Ravelli, YES! Youth Empowerment Solutions; Karen Cody Carlson, Oral Health Colorado; Ron Romero, New Mexico Department of Health; Dr. Camara Jones, Morehouse School of Medicine; Cherry Houston, Critical Learning Systems, Inc.; Don Weaver, National Association of Community Health Centers; Alejandra Valencia, The Oral Health Forum; Jackie Brown, NC Oral Health Collaborative; and Xavier Morales, Latino Coalition for a Healthy California.

By Ralph Fuccillo, MA

Oftentimes, when people think about a foundation, they think about the important grant-making efforts that serve a community and connect people with services they need. But, equally important is the social change that philanthropy can spark, power, and drive.

At the DentaQuest Foundation, we work each day to honor our responsibility to serve as a leader when it comes to moving the oral health equity movement forward. We are not just funders but also critical partners, sharing best practices and guiding our stakeholders, and simultaneously learning from them as well. As the leader of DentaQuest Foundation, I’m constantly evaluating new ways for us to be innovative, advance the movement, and connect with our partners in meaningful ways to unite in our mission to improve the oral health of all.

Last fall, the DentaQuest Foundation hosted its third annual Oral Health 2020 National Network Gathering in New Orleans. The theme of this year’s convening was “Progress, Possibility and Power,” and we brought together 250 people from all 50 states. The largest convening of this network ever conducted, this three-day event gathered together diverse partners working in the oral health movement. With representatives from a range of organizations from all across the country—community organizers, advocacy groups, oral health coalition, providers and more—we are united and poised to advance this movement.

The impact we can have is amazing when people come together in the same space, face-to-face. Even despite a number of differences in the focus of their work or where they’ve come from, they leave with the sense that they have the power to create change and make a difference.

Since moving to a national, systems-change focus in 2008 (addressing the interdependence of the policy, financing, care, and community systems that impact oral health), we have made significant progress towards eradicating dental disease in children and improving oral health across the lifespan. But this network of partners still has much to accomplish in a few short years. At the convening, we shared the recently-updated Oral Health 2020 goals. It was an exciting moment for us, as these new goals were informed and affirmed by grantees and partners in the oral health movement. The convening was an important opportunity for this network to connect and align around the goals and targets of Oral Health 2020, and to reaffirm our commitment to the shared vision of oral health as essential to overall health and well-being.

Part of the work on the second day included asking grantees and partners to reflect on the conditions needed to achieve the Oral Health 2020 targets, and to upgrade the strategies to best reflect what we’ll need to get the job done. This activity continued the process of learning from this field of oral health champions, who represent all levels of influence and action, and resulted in refined tactics that will direct the work moving forward toward better oral health for all.

In addition to measuring progress and rallying our stakeholders, we also brought in remarkable thought leaders in social change movements to share their perspectives. Paul Schmitz, CEO of Leading Inside Out and Dr. Camara Jones, senior fellow at the Satcher Health Leadership Institute, Morehouse School of Medicine, and president-elect of the American Public Health Association, were our keynote speakers.

Dr. Jones facilitated a fascinating conversation, providing context and guidance on racism and the social determinants of health, and urging us to look at our own goals through a health equity lens, while Mr. Schmitz shared a dynamic message on the power of collective impact when it comes to improving oral health and access to care. Both speakers inspired attendees to consider their work from another perspective, to question how racism is operating within their organizations, and to seek leadership from places others may not.

Building on the wealth of knowledge and experience that our keynote speakers brought to the table, these invigorating conversations on closing the oral health disparity gap and achieving positive change have galvanized innovative thinking about this movement and our approach to the work ahead.

The national convening serves as a point of reflection on the past year, but also an opportunity to set the path forward based on our momentum and accomplishments. Our foundation brings more than a financial contribution. A convening of grantee partners is an example of how we can deepen and strengthen connections and impact collective societal change. As dental providers, your insight and partnership will be crucial in our efforts to improve the oral health of all. These connections are essential to creating change, and in the end, we’re all working towards the same thing—to make people’s lives better.

Ralph Fuccillo, MA, is the president of the DentaQuest Foundation. The DentaQuest Foundation is the leading U.S. philanthropy focused solely on oral health. The foundation is supporting the development of the Oral Health 2020 network, a group of partners committed to working collectively at the national, state and community levels to eradicate dental disease in children and improve lifelong oral health. The DentaQuest Foundation is the philanthropic arm of DentaQuest. To learn more, visit:, or follow them on Twitter, @OralHealth2020.