Delta Dental Foundation fights more than just cavities

By Alison Bailin Batz

In 1997, “Titanic” ruled the box office. Hanson had everyone singing “MMMBop.” Delta Dental of Arizona launched one of the most impactful nonprofit organizations in the state. 

“Delta Dental of Arizona started the Delta Dental of Arizona Foundation with the mission to improve oral health across the state, particularly for uninsured and underinsured groups and communities,” says Barb Kozuh, director of community benefit for Delta Dental of Arizona.

“To give perspective, in the past 15 years alone, we’ve provided more than $13 million in community benefit support for oral health promotion and dental disease prevention programs across the state.”

According to Kozuh, the foundation provides support through a grant program and extensive community outreach and education.

“In 2020, we’ve distributed more than $750,000 in grants to 34 Arizona community organizations that serve high-risk children and families, and pregnant women,” says Kozuh, noting there are two primary grant programs within foundation—IMPACT and Community grants.


Organizations selected by the Delta Dental of Arizona Foundation to apply for the first IMPACT Grants in 2020 were chosen based on the oral health program’s demonstrated impact in the community, melding of services and education, plus the number of lives that are touched by the program. In addition, the organizations have proven to be faithful stewards of grant funds from Delta Dental of Arizona for at least three years.

Among this year’s IMPACT recipients is Neighborhood Outreach Access to Health, which was awarded a grant of $100,000 over two years for its Smiles for Kids school-based oral health program.

In the past, NOAH’s Smiles for Kids program provided in-person oral health education, dental screenings and fluoride varnish services to more than 3,000 children at primarily Title 1 elementary schools in Deer Valley, Scottsdale and Paradise Valley.

While schools have been unable to provide in-person learning, to continue this important work, NOAH retooled the program to provide the educational component via video utilizing the funds from Delta Dental of Arizona. 

“Poor oral health can negatively affect how a young mouth develops and leads to more than 50 million school hours being lost each year,” says Dr. Lou Sarrosa, NOAH dental director.

“It can also impact a child’s confidence, speech, nutrition, social skills, as well as potential for success later in life. This grant not only allows us to treat thousands of low-income and uninsured children who otherwise may not have access to dental services, it also gives us the opportunity to present dental education in a new and interactive platform for their families and provide them with important resources that can benefit the entire family.”

Students watch short videos on six oral health modules, take a quiz and electronically obtain parent permission to receive an oral health screening, fluoride varnish treatment and dental supplies once students return to school. Children can access the materials on a computer, tablet or phone.    

Fellow IMPACT Grant recipients include the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Phoenix’s Children’s Dental Clinic, El Rio Community Health Center’s Pediatric Dental Integration Program and Tooth BUDDS, which is a group of affiliated practice dental hygienists who serve the children of Graham and Greenlee counties.

Annual Community Grants

The foundation’s Community Grants support programs and organizations statewide that provide oral health education and services for uninsured and underserved children, pregnant women and seniors. These grants range from $2,500 to $25,000; a sampling of this year’s recipient programs include:

• New Leaf’s Healthy Smiles for Life, which provides dental hygiene education and supplies for preschool to high school-age children from low-income households.

• ACCEL’s Dentists are Awesome, which provides hands-on demonstrations and oral health education to grade K-12 students with special needs.

• Give Kids A Smile, which is an American Dental Association initiative designed to reduce school absenteeism by eliminating oral pain and infection in elementary age students.

• Dignity Health Chandler Children’s Dental Clinic, which provides children with preventive oral health care services and orofacial myofunctional therapy.

• Esperança’s Learning with a Smile, which sends bilingual educators to provide oral health education to low-income Latino children and seniors in metropolitan Phoenix.

• Smiles for Veterans, which facilitates critically needed dental care to senior Veterans who do not qualify for coverage under the Veterans Administration.

Outreach services and
health center support

Beyond its formal grant program, the foundation has several outreach services, notably one that allows it to provide more than 300,000 free toothbrushes to over 100 nonprofit organizations each year.

“An example of this donation in action, and as part of a bigger program, is our partnership with the Children’s Museum of Phoenix every February in honor of Children’s Dental Health Month,” Kozuh says.

“Beyond the donation of toothbrushes for each child who visits that month, we work on an interactive program at the museum with puppet shows, magic shows, story time and presentations by dentists all themed around oral health.”

The foundation also supports the efforts of the Delta Dental Oral Health Center at St. Vincent de Paul’s Virginia G. Piper Medical and Dental Clinic. It was renovated in 2019 to allow for roughly 4,000 more patient visits a year on top of the more than 15,000 it did in 2018. It sponsors new parent kits for First Things First, ensuring the estimated 77,000 women who give birth in Arizona each year get an oral health pouch with education cards, resources on infant and baby oral health milestones and development, and toothbrushes for mom and baby.

“And finally, during this unusual year, we also supported federally qualified health centers with unrestricted monies to use,” says Kozuh, noting in 2020 they’ve donated more than $500,000 to these health centers across Arizona. 

Delta Dental

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