Skip Navigation

W.K. Kellogg Foundation Grant

Dr. Sullivan with DHAT GraduatesThe Sullivan Alliance has received a multi-year grant through 2017 from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to support the Alliance’s work to increase the diversity of the health professions workforce. The Sullivan Alliance and its state alliance partners and their programs employ strategies to improve the recruitment of underrepresented populations to dental careers. This grant makes it possible for the Alliance to work with states to create avenues to expand the oral health workforce to include mid-level dental providers.

The lack of minorities within the health professions is considered one of the major contributors to health disparities – and significant disparities exist within the dental and allied dental workforce. Minorities are disproportionately underrepresented compared to their numbers in the general population. Currently only 7 percent of dentists are underrepresented minorities.

Oral health is imperative for overall wellness, yet nearly 17 million children go without dental care each year – and preventable tooth decay is the single most common chronic childhood disease. Tooth decay is twice as common among children from low-income families as those from higher socioeconomic groups.

At the University of Minnesota (UM) School of DentistryAccording to Expanding the Dental Team more than half of all children on Medicaid did not see a dentist. In 2011, nearly 860,000 patients visited U.S emergency rooms for dental problems that could have been avoided with earlier care in 2011. These facts underscore the story of Deamonte Driver, a Prince George’s County seventh-grader who died of a preventable infection that spread from his mouth to his brain in 2007.

These startling statistics demonstrate how essential it is to train new dentists, develop new models of care that can both increase the number of children and families who receive dental care, and offer career pathways for children of color to enter the dental career pipeline. Strategies to address the dramatic gaps in access to quality, affordable dental care, particularly in underserved areas in our country’s cities and rural communities, must include new types of dental care providers. The Affordable Care Act, known to many as Obamacare, includes provisions to boost access to dental care for underserved children. By 2014, about 5.3 million more children will have some form of dental insurance as a result of health care reform.

In July 2012, The Sullivan Alliance, in partnership with Morehouse School of Medicine’s Community Voices Initiative, brought together health and dental leaders from across Georgia – as well as other national and regional thought leaders in dentistry, education, medicine, health policy, and oral health research – to discuss ways to make dental care accessible to more Americans. The 2-day event entitled “Oral Health, Unmet Needs, Underserved Populations, and the Dental Therapist: A Regional Dialogue” took place in Atlanta, Georgia. All available speaker presentations are available in the Speeches & Presentation section.

Dr. Louis W. Sullivan and Dr. Leon A. AssaelDr. Sullivan and other Sullivan Alliance executives have also visited Alaska and Kansas to see first-hand how mid-level health providers are improving oral health in remote villages and under-served communities. In 2014, Dr. Sullivan addressed the graduates of the Dental Health Aide Therapist (DHAT) program in Anchorage, Alaska. In Celebrating 10 years of better Dental Care, Dr. Sullivan’s covered the DHAT program and the current state of oral health care in America. In his speech at the Association for Academic Minority Physicians’ annual meeting, Sullivan discussed the role of dental therapists as a part of new models of care to meet the oral health needs of Americans. DHATS are a model of proven care in a similar role to physician assistants and nurse practitioners.

Dr. Daniel Kennedy, DHAT at the Swinomish Dental Clinic in LaConner, WashingtonIn June 2014, Dr. Sullivan served as a guest on the Diane Rehm Show. The topic of discussion was Why Millions of Americans Don’t Get the Dental Care They Need. The radio show covered dental care in American and provided special attention to the mid-level provider movement.

Dr. Sullivan also explored the impact of dental health disparities in his speech at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine’s Leadership Forum. Dental carries are the most common chronic disease of children in America. Poor Oral Health increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease. According to Dr. Sullivan, the challenge for those in leadership positions in health is to improve oral health in America, and to increase access to dental care, while restraining growth in the costs of dental services.

Due to The Sullivan Alliance’s commitment to a well-trained yet accessible health workforce, we have also been involved in national policy discussions, including a recent response to the Commission on Dental Accreditation’s (CODA) Accreditation Standards for Dental Therapy Education Programs.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, established in 1930, supports children, families, and communities as they strengthen and create conditions that propel vulnerable children to achieve success as individuals and as contributors to the larger community and society. Grants are concentrated in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, and southern Africa.

Building Momentum for Mid-Level Dental Providers