In the Central Valley Health Policy Institute’s latest report, “Oral Health Barriers for California’s San Joaquin Valley Underserved and Vulnerable Populations,” findings indicate that Spanish-speaking Latinos are less informed about oral health than those who speak English.

The report examined how underserved residents throughout the region think, feel about and experience oral health services.

To understand the landscape of oral health specifically in the San Joaquin Valley, researchers from the institute surveyed about 700 residents from Fresno, Madera, Merced and Tulare counties about their perceptions and knowledge of oral health. Data was collected from underserved areas at federally qualified clinics and community health fairs, as well as health centers and clinics.

Researchers determined that insurance type (private, Medicaid and none), language/ethnicity and sites where the survey was taken have a strong impact on lack of oral health knowledge.

When looking at the three factors, Latino Spanish-speakers had less knowledge of unhealthy oral health behaviors, regardless of having private insurance. Those who took the survey at community clinics had less knowledge of what is bad for their dental health than those who took the surveys elsewhere.

“This shows that the lack of knowledge of what is bad for your dental health is not a problem of having public insurance, but of a lack of culturally, linguistically and age appropriate dental health information,” said Dr. Marlene Bengiaman, research director of the institute.

In response, the institute plans to develop and implement health literacy and educational materials in different languages, including Spanish. The goal is integrate this component of the curriculum into already existing chronic disease and diabetes curriculum for promotoras, Hispanic/Latino community members who provide health education,

“It is time we realize and acknowledge that 53 percent of the population we serve in Fresno County is Latinos,” Bengiaman said. “Of this population, 34 percent are Spanish monolingual.”

The report is the result of DentaQuest Foundation’s grassroots engagement initiative, a strategic grant-making plan that supports network development and oral health systems change at the community level. The initiative, launched in April 2015, includes a collaboration with 20 grantees from six states.

The institute is one of six California organizations that have partnered with and are receiving funding from DentaQuest to achieve Oral Health 2020 objectives, which include reinforcing the importance of proper oral care to overall health.

“Access to preventive oral health care is particularly important because many oral diseases are preventable with early treatment,” Bengiaman said. “Also, preventative dental care practices can save families money in the long run. These savings can be greatest for low-income families because they have less disposal income, and more preventable oral disease. Studies have shown that for every dollar spent on preventive dental care, $8 to $50 can be saved in restorative and emergency treatments.”

Researchers have taken their findings to various communities to initiate dialogue about recommendations. They also plan to share their findings with dentists in private and community clinics in order to understand their needs. In addition, the institute will host a series of forums to seek feedback from community members, providers and advocates.

The first forum, the “California Oral Health Network Regional Convening,” will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 15 at the Downtown Fresno Business Hub (1444 Fulton St.). A partnership between the Central Valley Health Policy Institute and California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, the free, public convening will bring together oral health advocates, county and state policy experts and grassroots organizations.

To register for the convening, visit For more information on the oral health report, contact Marlene Bengiamin at 559.228.2167 or visit the Central Valley Health Policy Institute website.

View original press release.