Date of Graduation

Spring 5-15-2023

Document Access

Project/Capstone - Global access

Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)


School of Nursing and Health Professions

First Advisor

Marissa Kraynak


Oral health is the health of the mouth, cheeks, teeth, and their supporting structure within the oral cavity. It helps in performing day-to-day routine functions such as swallowing, tasting, chewing, talking, and making a wide array of complex facial expressions. Apart from performing everyday functions, oral health is a crucial contributor to the overall state of well-being and good quality of life. It is measured by oral conditions such as tooth decay, gum disease (Periodontal), and oral cancers. Tooth decay and cavity formations are the most prevalent oral health conditions which affect people of all age groups. However, children are more susceptible to getting them due to several risk factors such as their age, structure of teeth, and certain behavior. There are many chronic conditions associated with systemic (overall) health such as diabetes,heart disease, stroke, cancer, obesity, and arthritis. An interesting fact to know is that dental decay is also considered one of them. While focusing on health disparities, which are the differences in health outcomes between populations. Many health disparities lie in certain race/ethnic minority groups, similarly, there are many Oral Health Disparities (OHD) embedded among these groups. Statistics from U.S. and California reflect that often, these affected minority groups are Hispanic/Latino and non-Hispanic Black communities. OHD is facilitated by lack of dental care access, lack of understanding of oral health, low-income, low educational attainment and lack of paid time leave from work to go to dental visit. Tooth decay is the number one cause of children’s school absenteeism. School-aged children suffering from tooth decay can have pain, malnutrition, and speech delay. Due to missing teeth, they can also have low self-esteem and reduce overall productivity. As far as dental care is concerned, the dental coverage for the low-income Medi-Cal population has been expanded and improved, yet certain inadequacies are remaining in this area. For example, Medi-Cal now covers 2 dental visits every year and all the basic dental care services for its beneficiaries. Apart from that, other government-funded programs also support and promote oral health. One of the biggest initiatives for improving oral health is happening at the state level by the California Department of Public Health-Office of Oral Health (CDPH-OOH). This office is getting funding from Prop 56 to support 61 Local Oral Health Programs (LOHPs) across California (including 58 counties and 3 cities). They have implemented certain interventions to address the issue of OHD which include Community Water Fluoridation (CWF), Kindergarten Oral Health Assessment (KOHA), School Sealant Programs (SSPs), and Oral Health Literacy (OHL). These all are very effective and diverse approaches to serving communities in improving their oral health. OHL is one of the objectives of OOH, however, there is a lack of OHL which is specifically tailored to this hard-to-reach minority groups of California along with cultural humility and competency. Moreover, the lack of awareness about the available resources contributes to hindering the utilization of these services to their full potential. This research paper explored these gaps and made recommendations that could potentially help bridge some of these inadequacies. Disseminating educational material about oral health interventions along with outreach campaigns would enhance the public’s understanding of the oral health at hand. With better knowledge about the interventions and their benefits, it is anticipated that these communities will be able to utilize available resources better. There has been a new initiative put in place by the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) for Community Health Worker (CHW) benefits for Oral health. One of the recommendations discussed in the paper is utilizing these CHWs as a vehicle for hard-to-reach communities and facilitating the dissemination of oral health material to them. Also, CHWs can help them navigate and connect with dental providers which is again hard in the Medi-Cal population. This OHL intervention will help reduce the burden of disease and OHD at the state level, national level, and worldwide. This will lead to a healthier society where people can have a good quality of life, work, and community growth.