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El Rio Community Health Center’s Embedded Pediatric Dental ProgramDelta Dental of Arizona Blog


El Rio Community Health Center oral health volunteer checking the inside of a child's mouth

Literally, every day I sit at my desk I think about the work I do and how it applies to Delta Dental of Arizona’s mission to improve lives by promoting optimal oral health for uninsured and underinsured populations across the state.

One way the DDAZ Foundation looks to improve oral health across the state is by funding programs that provide access to quality dental care for underserved populations.  Access to care can be impeded in a variety of ways, including cost of care, location, availability of appointments and lack of transportation.

DDAZ Foundation staff has been diligently working with hospitals, healthcare systems, medical clinics and nonprofit organizations like the National Kidney Foundation, Neighborhood Outreach Access to Health (NOAH) and Phoenix Rescue Mission and others to improve access to dental care. Partnerships with these types of nonprofits can help to provide dental services to people that find basic dental hygiene services out of reach. 

Children’s Embedded Dental Program

El Rio Community Health Center in Tucson started working with Delta Dental in 2009 to embed dental teams in pediatric medical well visits as a way to educate parents and children in the importance of dental health and its connection to their overall health. The “Children’s Embedded Dental Program” began with a small kiosk in the pediatric waiting room of the main medical clinic. Dental hygienists would approach families in the waiting room to see if they could give the children a screening and varnish treatment while they waited for the medical appointment.

All of those pediatric patients were given a screening, received a fluoride varnish treatment, bilingual education on how to brush their teeth, when to change their toothbrush and received a Smile Bag with a toothbrush, paste and floss. If the child had a dental emergency, they were whisked over to the dental clinic to be seen. 

This dental kiosk in the waiting room staffed with one hygienist has grown into 8 teams of hygiene students and hygienists that see all pediatric patients during medical well visits at 6 different El Rio medical clinics. These 8 teams saw 14,635 patients in 2021.  Now all pediatric patients see a hygiene student or hygienist during their medical well visit. These screenings, varnish treatments and education interactions are put in their medical chart and are tracked.

El Rio Community Health Center oral health professional smiles with child during well visit

The El Rio team has vastly improved the access to basic dental care for over 14,500 children in Tucson who may not ever have made a separate dental appoint or even seen a dentist.  By connecting the dental care to medical care, parents learn first-hand the importance of keeping children’s mouths healthy and the importance of preventive care. In addition to improving access to care, making the visit more convenient for the families, if an urgent treatment is identified in the screening, the embedded team contacts the dental clinic while the family is in the exam room and arranges for an emergency visit with an El Rio dentist.  The real time emergency assistance has helped children get out of pain and avoid emergency room visits.

It makes me smile to think that by partnering with organizations like El Rio, Delta Dental can help ensure our neighbors can access, understand the value of, and prioritize oral health care. I hope it makes you smile, too!

Learn more about our grantees and the oral health programming we support in the community:

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