Colorado Oral Health News – February 2023

A little girl is in the doctors office with a doctor and caregiver, demonstrating teeth brushing

Letter from the Oral Health Unit

Dear friends, 

These past few months have seen changes to CDPHE’s Oral Health Unit (OHU). We said goodbye to Dr. Katya Mauritson, our state dental director, and we wish her the best with her new role at the CDC. Dr. Mauritson led the OHU for over 10 years, inspiring the team with her passion for improving the oral health of all Colorado communities. She led by example with her focus on issues of health justice and taking action to address oral health inequities. Although Dr. Mauritson will be greatly missed, her time with the state of Colorado will leave a lasting legacy of commitment to oral health equity. A search for a new dental director is underway.

As we welcomed in spring, we welcomed new team members to join us, each of them bringing their own unique skills and perspectives to our work. You can read more about them in their biographies below.

Through these new beginnings, we remain committed to centering equity in all that we do. Together with partners, we convened around the Colorado Oral Health Strategic Plan to create goals and strategies aimed at addressing oral health inequities. Throughout the community engagement process for the Colorado Oral Health Strategic Plan (COHSP), we heard about the resiliency and strength of Colorado communities in the face of inequities and structural barriers; we also heard about how structural inequities play out in the lives of these same communities.

The COHSP strategies are designed to address community needs and the systemic barriers to optimal oral health that communities that have the highest burden of disease face.  To ensure that the strategies in the COHSP address inequities and reflect community voice, the OHU will be embarking on a listening tour. The listening tour will solicit input and feedback on the draft goals and strategies created by statewide partners (community-based organizations, oral health network partners, and state partners) from Colorado communities and additional partners across the state who were unable to participate in the creation of strategies. The result will be a Colorado Oral Health Strategic Plan that includes actionable goals and strategies for all who work in oral public health and the oral health field in Colorado.

If you represent a community that would like to participate in the listening tour or you know of a community-based group or organization that would like to participate, please email with the contact information and any relevant background information.  

We also want to acknowledge the great work that continues to happen across the state. For example, Chaffee County Public Health is increasing access to oral health care and services in their local community with their creation of a free mobile health clinic. The clinic is set to launch in May of 2022 and will serve the Salida and Buena Vista communities. For more information about this initiative and to see their flier, click here.

Chaffee County’s mobile services clinic is just one example of the crucial role of local public health in improving community oral health. Another example of local work can be found in Garfield County’s school-based program, Smiles for Students. The Smiles for Students initiative is expanded upon later in this newsletter. 

There are so many inspiring projects happening in our Colorado communities. We are excited for what the next few months hold and are looking forward to seeing the continued work done by our network and others in our local communities. Together we can continue to improve oral health outcomes and address oral health inequities.

With gratitude, 

The Oral Health Unit

Welcome to the Oral Health Unit Leila and Robyn!

A Headshot of Leila Diab smiling

Leila Diab

Leila joined the team in January as the Oral Health Workforce Coordinator. She has her Bachelor of Science degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and her Master of Public Health degree from the Colorado School of Public Health. Previously, Leila worked in public health research, pharmacy benefit management for health plans, and COVID-19 vaccine coordination. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and gold-panning with her fiancé and their dog.

A picture of Robyn Maestas smiling with a toothbrush and dinosaur puppet

Robyn Maestas is a licensed Registered Dental Hygienist and holds a Bachelor’s in Public Health related to Dental Hygiene. After a transformative service trip to Chichicastenango, Guatemala in 2016, Robyn committed herself to a career in public health. She has worked as an integrated dental hygienist in a medical setting, a school-based health center dental hygienist, an honorarium speaker, and an oral health advocate and prevention specialist for local nonprofit and public health agencies. With an increased interest and commitment to creating a healthier Colorado and better oral health outcomes and equity for children, Robyn joined the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as Child and School Oral Health Coordinator. On the weekend, you can find Robyn at yoga, skiing, or enjoying one of the 320 sunny days mountain biking at Lake Pueblo State Park.

National Updates

  • Oral Health in America

    Each month, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) releases emails that highlight information from their report, Oral Health in America: Advances and Challenges. The emails contain summaries and key takeaways from the most recent report. The April 2022 Bulletin focuses on working-aged adults and is available here.

News & Hot Topics

  • 2022 National Oral Health Conference (NOHC)

    This April, the NOHC was held in Fort Worth, TX. Sponsored by the Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors (ASTDD) and the American Association of Public Health Dentistry (AAPHD), the NOHC provides educational sessions spanning a variety of topics by leaders in the oral health field. This year’s conference included speakers from Colorado, such as Dr. Patricia Braun. Dr. Braun represented Colorado on a panel of speakers highlighting recent Networks for Oral Health Integration (NOHI) medical-dental integration project efforts in community health centers across 12 states.

    In collaboration with the Office of Oral Health at the Maryland Department of Health, Colorado’s OHU developed a poster presentation spotlighting  two community outreach models: the Regional Oral Health Specialist (ROHS) model and Maryland’s Regional Oral Health Coordinator (ROHC) model. The poster presentation showcases each model and illustrates how  outreach was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The Oral Health Unit would like to give special thanks to the ROHS for their ongoing work and contributions to advancing oral health in rural Colorado, as well as to our colleagues at the Maryland Department of Health. Pictured are CDPHE’s Jenni Lansing and Maryland’s Arlene Guagliano as they present the joint poster.
  • 2022 Public Health in the Rockies

    Registration is now open for the Public Health in the Rockies 2022 conference, Public Health: Forging Forward Together. The conference is being held in Keystone September 27-29 and will be highlighting public health work happening across Colorado. Click here to register.
  • National Network for Oral Health Access (NNOHA) Call for Abstracts

    The NNOHA is currently accepting abstracts for presentations at the 2022 NNOHA Annual Conference on November 6-9 in Nashville, TN. The conference theme is Forward Together: Pursuing Equity, Access, and Quality.

    Abstract submissions related to equity and access, workforce, Care Beyond the Chair (e.g., school-based & community programs, telehealth, advocacy, integration, etc.), and value-based care are invited. The submission deadline is Wednesday, May 25, 2022. Click here to submit an abstract.

    More information about NNOHA is available here.

Stories from the Field

  • Smiles for Students program serves Garfield Re-2 School District

    During Dental Health Awareness Month, 54 students in a Garfield county elementary school received oral health education and preventative services. The Smiles for Students program focuses on select grade levels at schools where 50% or more of students receive lunch for free or at a reduced cost. Click here to learn more about Smiles for Students and how this free service benefits local communities.

Partner Links

  • Grant Opportunity from Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation: Due May 10

    Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation’s 2022 grant opportunity opens April 1, 2022. This funding opportunity focuses on advancing oral health equity through the following initiatives: workforce, prevention, and place-based access to care. Requests can be up to $100,000 per year, for up to three years. Learn more.
  • Input Requested: Behavioral Health Topics of Interest to Colorado’s Oral Health Workforce

    The Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Colorado’s OHU  would like input from dental health professionals regarding opportunities to increase the workforce’s understanding of effective pain management, opioid prescribing, substance use disorders, and behavioral health. Please take this survey to help us better discern the educational needs of the oral health workforce.
A banner that says prenatal, infant, & toddler with a smiling infant
  • Protect Tiny Teeth: A Prenatal Implementation Guide

    With support from the CDC’s Division of Oral Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has developed the Protect Tiny Teeth Toolkit. The purpose of the toolkit is to address the gaps in information regarding oral health and pregnancy. The kit includes communications and practice tools that can be used to educate health care professionals and families on oral health and the integration of preventative oral health care for pregnant patients in primary care settings. Click here for the toolkit and to read about the AAP’s Protect Tiny Teeth pilot project, see the implementation guide, and learn more about Protect Tiny Teeth!
A banner that says school-age with a smiling child
  • School Sealant Programs: Needed More than Ever

    Over the past two years, COVID-19 reduced access to oral health services across the nation, preventing children from receiving oral health care. In Colorado, pandemic restrictions meant a dramatic decrease in access to the state’s School Sealant Programs (SSPs). The Sealant Advisory Board convened in March to discuss the current state of student oral health and Colorado’s SSPs. Though the pandemic led to a marked and justified decrease in SSP activity, the meeting revealed a long-awaited return to schools and an update on the oral health needs of Colorado’s school-aged children.

    The return of SSPs has provided dental workers across the state with their first looks into the mouths of children since the pandemic began. As more mouths are examined, the effects of COVID-19 on kid’s teeth is becoming more apparent. At the Advisory Board meeting, SSP partners reported observing an atypical increase of dental cavities and other related conditions in children. The Sealant Advisory Board members speculate that higher decay rates may be associated with a lack of dental providers in the areas surrounding schools. 

    Despite COVID-19 making entry into schools difficult and school-based health clinics being understaffed, there has been an increase in parent and school champions playing key roles in the return of school-based oral health services. Thanks to outstanding community engagement and efforts by organizations and individuals involved, all SSPs have been able to return in some capacity, overcoming obstacles such as low enrollment and COVID safety hesitancy.

    The Basic Screening Survey was also discussed at the meeting. The survey is a statewide, in-the-mouth screening of kindergarteners and 3rd graders. The purpose of the Basic Screening Survey is to provide data needed to better understand the current state of children’s oral health. The screenings will be administered over the 2022/2023 school year and the results will provide a collective look at the oral health status of Colorado’s children.

    Although the data will not be available until after the completion of the Basic Screening Survey, discussions held by the Sealant Advisory Board indicate that school-based oral health prevention services are needed now more than ever.
  • Oral Cancer Awareness Month

    April was Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Oral Cancer Awareness month helps bring attention to the need for early detection and HPV vaccination in children 11-12 years of age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), dental professionals have a vested interest in recommending HPV vaccination to their patients.

    The CDC notes that oral cancers are most common in older adults, particularly in people over 55 years of age who smoke and are heavy drinkers. The mortality rate from oral cancer is nearly three times as high in males as it is in females and nearly twice as high in White and Black populations as it is in Hispanic populations. Avoiding high risk behaviors, including using tobacco and excessive use of alcohol, are critical in preventing oral cancers.

    The HPV vaccine is recommended for children ages 11-12 but can be started as early as age 9. HPV vaccination could prevent more than 90% of cancers caused by HPV from ever developing. HPV is thought to cause 70% of cancers in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (oropharyngeal cancer). To read more, see the CDC’s HPV and Oral Cancer page
A banner that says older adults and a woman smiling
  • Free resources to support older adult oral health

    A healthy mouth supports overall health throughout the lifespan. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Oral Health Unit offers a number of resources to support older adult oral health such as oral health kits, denture kits, insurance information, transportation information, and a variety of other printed materials. 

    Good oral health allows people to age well and avoid the pain and costs associated with the socioemotional and physical impact of poor oral health. Poor oral health status can lead to chronic and acute pain, work absence, costly treatment, and an overall decline of quality of life. Uncontrolled oral diseases can exacerbate chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. Oral issues can also cause respiratory diseases and cancer. 
  • Take this survey if your organization is interested in receiving these free resources or would like to request additional information.