Delta Dental: Oral Health Focus for Bay Area Seniors
August 24, 2022Jim Oswald

Delta Dental and Meals on Wheels San Francisco partner to improve the oral health of homebound seniors.

In 2020, Meals on Wheels San Francisco provided meals to more than 5,200 homebound seniors in the City. We experienced a surge in demand due to COVID-19 that we could not have expected. As many seniors with underlying medical conditions became homebound and housebound fearful to go out for groceries due to concerns of contracting coronavirus, we were inundated with new requests for our services. In all, we saw nearly triple the number of people request home-delivered meals from us (see our “One Year Ago” blog about our partnership with the SF COVID Command Center to manage requests for meals from families and individuals impacted by coronavirus) – the largest influx of need in one year that we’ve experienced in our 50-year history.

We were very fortunate to find new partners from the corporate sector to help us meet that growing need. One in particular truly understands our mission of helping older adults take care of their health through nutritious meals that enable them to live independently in their homes: the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation.

We met with Delta Dental at the end of 2019 to figure out how we could collaborate on a program to help improve the oral health of our clients. Many of the individuals we serve require special diets of softer foods due to mouth pain or tooth loss. We thought there could be good opportunities to provide education or other resources to our clients to help them be more proactive about taking care of their teeth and gums – or dentures and gums. Then COVID-19 hit, and everything was put on hold.

Even during the pandemic, shelter-in-place, and the various surges and spikes in coronavirus cases, Delta Dental didn’t put its support on hold. In the early days of the pandemic, they provided us with $150,000 in unrestricted grants to help us with our operations. And they came back to us at the end of 2020 with $500,000. We’re using that to build something that helps our clients improve their oral health.

Delta Dental supplies 4,000 oral hygiene kits for Meals on Wheels SF clients

Oral health and overall health are closely connected. And poor nutrition and food insecurity have a direct link to both. In fact, food insecurity increases the risk of dental caries, which is the condition that causes tooth decay. As we age, poor oral health is also linked to numerous chronic diseases, certain types of cancer, and even Alzheimer’s.

Our Meals on Wheels recipients experience a variety of health challenges, ranging from food insecurity, limited physical mobility, and living at or below the federal poverty level. Many seniors have to make hard choices between paying the rent or purchasing food. Unfortunately, that means their oral health has traditionally been pretty low on the priority list. Combine that with being homebound and unable to regularly see a dentist, and you’ve got a population that is in dire need of help. We are still figuring out what that help will look like, but so far Delta Dental has shown us they are all in – and not just with funding.

Delta Dental employees created more than 1,000 “Thinking of You” cards for our clients to be included with their meals as part of our March for Meals campaign. March for Meals is our national campaign that celebrates the 1965 Older Americans Act, which was amended in 1972 to include funding for senior nutrition programs like ours. Delta Dental is also providing more than 4,000 dental kits with a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and a tip sheet to help our clients improve their oral care at home. We’re hoping to engage more Delta Dental employees in other volunteer opportunities as our partnership grows and deepens.

We’re excited to partner with Delta Dental to improve the health of the older adults we serve every day, and together, help keep seniors smiling.


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