Vivian Vasallo, executive director of the Delta Dental Institute, is on a quest to ensure that dentistry plays a larger role when it comes to President Joe Biden's vision of healthcare and where he and his medical colleagues believe it is going during his administration.
"We are an organization focusing on advancing oral health for all Americans and ensuring that overall health is a central part of national healthcare conversation," Vasallo told me of the Delta Dental Institute's priorities during a recent interview. "We clearly believe that oral health is essential to overall health and that oral health is critically important to every American's health. We believe that the dental team is really an essential part of the overall healthcare delivery system and needs to be treated as such."
Vasallo joined with Dr. Joseph Dill, head of dental science for the Delta Dental Institute, to pen an editorial in December calling for the incoming Biden administration to install oral health experts in federal agency leadership positions. With the inauguration now complete and our society understanding the importance of health perhaps more than ever after enduring the COVID-19 pandemic, Vasallo believes this is a critical time for the role of dentistry to be heightened on the national government level.
"We did some polling and research at the end of last year, and it found that 91% of Americans believe that taking care of their own health now is vitally important," Vasallo said. "With dentistry educating people about the oral-systemic link, we're building on a very strong foundation. Our renewed focus on federal agencies is a big part of that. We want to see them also prioritize oral health and install mental health experts, because we believe that both oral health and mental health are so important for Americans' overall health."
While Vasallo is leading the push from the vantage of the Delta Dental Institute, she also believes there is plenty that every dentist and team member can do at the local level to help bring forth the important message of how oral health affects overall health.
"I see my dentist as a trusted resource for information," Vasallo explained. "As dentists and team members are in their local communities and talking to their patients every day, they can play a critical role in elevating these issues in their communities. They can help patients understand the links between oral health and overall health, and they can get involved in the whole community by using their expertise to raise the level of patient education and understanding."
With a change in administration, Vasallo believes the time is right to have the message of oral health amplified in Washington.
"Dentistry shouldn't be an afterthought, and it hasn't been a priority at the highest levels of government for many years," Vasallo said. "Now is a wonderful opportunity to change that and to help address some of the trends we are seeing around oral health literacy and reduce disparities in communities throughout our nation."
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