Dental Health

The Issue:

Poor dental health affects people of all ages.

One in four children have untreated tooth decay, making it the most common chronic illness among school-aged children.  It is also a condition that is twice as prevalent in low-income populations.  The good news is that tooth decay is preventable and prevention pays the biggest dividends when it starts early.

There are also tens of thousands of Central Texas adults who lack dental insurance and struggle to obtain dental care because of affordability challenges, transportation barriers, and lack of geographic access.  Many adults live with the effects of a lifetime of poor access to preventive dental care, including pain, loss of teeth, and preventable emergency department visits.  In addition, poor adult dental health can complicate other health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and pregnancy.

Our Plan:

Our approach for dental health is two-pronged and focused on children’s dental health through the St. David’s Mobile Dental Program, and adult dental health through Healthy Smiles Central Texas.

Since 2001, St. David’s Foundation has operated one of the largest school-based mobile dental programs in the country, and overcomes practical barriers to dental care for children in Title I elementary schools across Central Texas.  Children stay at school, parents do not have to miss work, and costs to low income families are eliminated.  Learn more here.

Our goals aimed at children’s dental health through St. David’s Mobile Dental Program are:

  • Improving children’s dental health through school-based sealant and treatment programs in Hays, Travis, and Williamson counties
  • Reducing the proportion of students with untreated decay on permanent teeth
  • Increasing the proportion of children with a long-term solution to dental care through effective patient navigation

Seeing the adult need, St. David’s Foundation expanded its dental health community investments in 2017 by starting a multi-year adult dental initiative called Healthy Smiles Central Texas that is expanding the capacity of nine safety-net clinics in urban and rural areas to care for uninsured adults.

Our goals aimed at adult dental health through Healthy Smiles Central Texas are:

  • Increasing the number of uninsured adults receiving affordable dental treatment in Central Texas by 70% by the year 2022
  • Improving efficiency for larger clinics
  • Sustaining the overall capacity of participating organizations during this time of growth

Who We Serve:

Through St. David’s Mobile Dental Program, we work with low-income children attending high needs elementary schools in Hays, Travis and Williamson counties.

Through Healthy Smiles Central Texas, we work with targeted safety-net dental providers who serve uninsured adults.

How We Will Do It:

Our approach for children’s dental health through St. David’s Mobile Dental Program will:

  • Continue to improve children’s oral health through school-based dental screenings, prevention, restorative, and complex care
  • Actively integrate oral health into other areas of focus including: Women’s Health, Strong Safety Net, and Insurance Enrollment and Use
  • Create public awareness on the importance of oral health to overall health

Our approach for adult dental health will: 

  • Support safety-net clinics for enhanced staffing and equipment
  • Provide technical assistance and capacity building to our safety-net grant partners around issues like reducing broken appointments and fostering high performing teams
  • Make direct care available to adults on the Foundation’s mobile vans, which operate at community health centers when school is out of session
  • Provide limited support to organizations that work with private dentists to volunteer with adults in need
  • Include actively learning about promising systems change solutions nationally and in other states that have the potential to improve adult access in Central Texas


For More Information

Elizabeth Krause
Elizabeth Krause, Senior Program Officer

“I previously spent a decade improving oral health for publicly insured children and always wanted to address the challenging adult side of the equation, which I get to do at St. David’s Foundation. We must relieve the suffering that reflects decades of limited dental care for too many of our neighbors, but filling and extracting could take up all our resources. Incorporating prevention, integrated care, two-generational strategies, and equity are in my sightline.”

Learn more about the St. David’s Dental Program

What to Expect When the St. David’s Dental Program Visits Your School