oral health

Medicare and Oral Health


Does basic Medicare cover regular dental visits?
A)    Yes
B)    No
C)    I’m not sure…

If you answered A or C, you aren’t alone, as a recent Washington Dental Service Foundation survey showed 51% of respondents in Spokane believe Medicare covers dental. However, you would be wrong.

Correct answer: B) No, basic Medicare does not cover dental, and a lot of folks entering retirement are learning this the hard way. A recent article in The Spokesman Review talks about what steps folks approaching retirement should take for their oral health.

Good oral health relates to a lot more than just our teeth; our ability to chew effects the nutrition we receive, our ability to smile effects our confidence, and chronic conditions like Type 2 Diabetes can exacerbate dental decay.

Organizations like Smile Spokane, WDSF’s The Mighty Mouth, and our subsidiary Better Health Together's DENT program are helping connect folks to the dental care they need, but for lasting change, we need a health care system that includes our mouths in our health. To learn more about EHF’s involvement in our community's oral health, view our Oral Health Access Document here. 

Good Oral Health for Spokane Residents

You may have heard our health system in the US described as “decapitated” because our primary care providers treat the physical health of our bodies, but our heads, including mental health and oral health, are treated separately. Moving towards an integrated health system that treats the whole person will be a crucial step for health systems transformations, and in improving the health of our region.

Here in the Spokane area, programs like The Mighty Mouth, Smile Spokane, and DENT, are helping to raise community investment in Oral Health, but there is a lot of work to be done. A recent article in The Spokesman Review on the DENT program has helped start conversations around the shortfalls in our region's access to care. In Spokane 40% of children have experienced tooth decay by the time they reach kindergarten. Over 30% of adults have lost one or more of their teeth to decay.[1] Not to mention with the increasing amount of sugar in American diets, regular flossing and brushing isn’t always enough to fight cavities. We don’t always think of how our teeth relate to our overall health, but tooth decay and gum disease can worsen chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease.

We’ve recently released our Oral Health Access document, which expresses our commitment to improving oral health access and some suggestions for how we can address oral health as a community. Please read and share!


[1] Spokane Regional Health District. (Nov 2010). 10 Things You Need to Know About Oral Health in Spokane County.

Seattle Times Article about Access to Dental Care in Washington State

Check out this intriguing article from the Seattle Times about access to dental care in Washington State.  While approximately 25% of Washington residents have dental insurance through Medicaid, as the article states, "Dental insurance doesn't mean access to care."  Only 3 in 10 dentists accept Medicaid, and according to the article, dental trouble was the number one reason people went to the emergency room in 2010 (see image below).


In an effort to address this problem in our region, our subsidiary Better Health Together's Dental Emergencies Needing Treatment (DENT) program aims to reduce unnecessary ER and hospital visits for dental problems by connecting clients to dental providers who accept Medicaid, as well as by growing the network of providers who accept Medicaid.  In its first six months, the program generated an estimated $634,000 in savings by helping patients access more appropriate dental care.

Learn more about DENT on BHT's website.

Teeth Week – “You’re healthier with a healthy mouth”

More than 50 community leaders gathered at McKinstry on Monday, November 9th to celebrate a successful Teeth Week.  Teeth Week was October 17-25 and is part of the Mighty Mouth campaign that is building awareness statewide that oral health is an essential part of overall health.  In addition to focusing on the value of good oral health, the goal of the campaign is to motivate people to take individual action to prevent oral disease. 

During Teeth Week, more than 35 organizations helped to deliver oral health messages.  Activities included the SmileMobile at the Salvation Army to serve adults; with the help from the Spokane District Dental Society, oral health messages were delivered in 70 schools; there were storytimes in the libraries as well information distributed at the YMCA and Mobius Kids; and seniors were reached through the YMCA Senior Sneakers and through the Safe Foundation.

Awareness about the importance of good Oral Health is all the more important in Spokane where 40% of our children have experienced dental decay by kindergarten and one-third of our seniors have lost all their teeth.

Empire Health Foundation was proud to be a supporter of Teeth Week and is pleased to partner with Washington Dental Service Foundation on overall Oral Health efforts. 

This video highlights the importance of Oral Health in Spokane.  

Smile! It’s Teeth Week in Spokane (October 17-25)


Learn more about Teeth Week, a week of events and activities to raise awareness about oral health, from our partner the Washington Dental Service Foundation!

Did you know that over half of the children in Spokane County have cavities by the third grade? That is one of the many reasons The Mighty Mouth campaign is hosting Teeth Week in Spokane!  Featuring activities and events during the week of October 17-25, Teeth Week seeks to raise awareness about the importance of oral health as it relates to one’s overall health.

Too many people don’t realize cavities  and gum disease are preventable.  Or that disease and infections in the mouth are linked to other serious health problems including diabetes, heart disease and stroke. The Mighty Mouth campaign is a statewide public awareness effort to change the way people in Washington think about and value oral health. The Mighty Mouth campaign provides information about how to prevent oral disease and motivates people to take action to stay healthy.

The campaign message is simple:  You’re Healthier with a Healthy Mouth.  The Washington Dental Service Foundation is a sponsor of Teeth Week in Spokane.

Events and Activities:

There are opportunities for coverage throughout Teeth Week.

  • The SmileMobile, (a mobile dental van operated by Washington Dental Service Foundation) will provide care for adults (with pre-scheduled appointments) at The Salvation Army (Oct. 18–19)
  • Oral health “storytimes” at Spokane city and county libraries
  • Activities at Mobius Kids with tips to help keep children cavity-free
  • Educational outreach in schools through the Spokane District Dental Society
  • Presentations at events for seniors highlighting the importance of oral health
  • Outreach to media and community organizations about the importance of oral health
  • A social media campaign - visit The Mighty Mouth Facebook page and share the posts 

Spokane County Fast Oral Health Facts:

  • Over 30 percent of adults have lost one or more teeth due to decay; 5 percent have lost all their teeth.
  • Younger adults (18-34 years) and older adults (55+) are less likely to have insurance, so prevention is important.
  • Good oral health helps people live better, longer.  Oral disease is preventable. Prevention saves money and improves health. 

About Washington Dental Service Foundation

Washington Dental Service Foundation is a non-profit funded by Delta Dental of Washington, the leading dental benefits company in Washington.  The Foundation works with partners to develop and execute innovative programs and public policies that produce permanent changes in the healthcare arena and improve the public’s long-term oral health.  The Foundation focuses on children and seniors, two groups especially vulnerable to oral disease.

About The Mighty Mouth Campaign

The Mighty Mouth is a statewide public awareness campaign to change the way people in Washington think about and value oral health.  This is a campaign to deliver an important message: oral health matters because you’re more fit if your mouth is fit.