By Kenzie Ferguson

Stock image of people passing out food at a soup kitchen

For as long as the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation has existed – and even before its inception through Delta Dental’s corporate philanthropy – we have been dedicated to increasing access to oral health care for everyone. However, as the pandemic has pushed unprecedented numbers of families into food insecurity, we knew we needed to widen our focus and help vulnerable populations meet their most basic needs. That’s why we are carving out funding to help address hunger in our communities.

Food is critical to overall health, but it also affects our oral health. Several studies have examined the relationship between food insecurity and dental caries, which is the condition that causes tooth decay. All have found a strong link between the two.

According to one study, “children from very low food security households had significantly higher untreated caries prevalence than children with full food security.” Interestingly, skipping breakfast is also associated with higher instances of caries. Not surprisingly, those who are more food insecure are more likely to skip breakfast, further strengthening the connection.

While socioeconomic status is a significant contributor to tooth decay, food insecurity may play a larger role regardless of status. According to data published in the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, “Odds of tooth decay among children with low food security were two times higher than among children with full food security when socioeconomic status was held constant.” It is difficult to untangle the driving contributor. However, this evidence makes a compelling argument that food insecurity is a major oral health issue regardless of socio-economic status.

Food insecurity is a significant problem in this country – one that has been worsened by the pandemic. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that one in nine Americans – or 37 million people (about twice the population of New York) – were food insecure. While there aren’t official numbers for 2020, the Urban Institute conducted a survey showing that more than one in six adults were food insecure because of the current economic crisis. We’ve certainly heard anecdotally from our partners that demand is skyrocketing among food banks, and we are stepping up to help.

So far in 2020, the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation has provided $1 million to local food banks and Meals on Wheels programs. Now, we’re committing an additional $2.5 million to help feed hungry families across our 15 states and Washington, D.C. This not only respects our mission to promote oral health; it aligns with our commitment to support our communities where the need is greatest.

The span between Thanksgiving and Christmas is always a busy time for food banks. However, this year our food bank partners are making drastic changes to meet the unprecedented demand. From having to call on the National Guard to help with traffic control to the need for full-time help, food banks rose to the occasion.

This holiday season, for those of us who are fortunate enough to set the table full of food, please consider donating or giving your time to our local food banks. Every dollar donated to a food bank allows it to buy roughly $5 worth of food.

If you or someone you know might need a little help putting food on the table, there are resources in your community. You can find your local food bank  through Feeding America.

I wish you all a happy and healthy holiday season.