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Why Are We Smiling?

By Jill Hamilton on July 8, 2014 in Giving Back

Family walking in the grass

If you are driving in Cedar Rapids, Dubuque or Sioux City, you might see a smiling face staring back at you. In July we are kicking off our Foundation's “Helping Iowa Smile” Campaign around Iowa. You might see a couple of our billboards or hear our radio spots talking about the stories of a person in your community.

When I started at Delta Dental about a year ago, I was surprised to learn of all the great work our Foundation does for Iowans. I sort of knew that the company was a not-for-profit insurance company, but I had no idea the great work that happened in communities throughout Iowa to improve the oral and overall health of Iowans.

One of Iowa's Best Kept Secrets

At first, I thought that my lack of knowledge was just about my lack of knowledge. But I've come to believe we haven't done a good enough job of sharing our incredible story with Iowans. A story that has Iowa's leading dental insurance company contributing nearly $20 million to the public good since 2002. A story that touches every one of Iowa's 99 counties and the more than 100,000 Iowans who have been served. A story that provides the passion for our team members to come to work every day knowing that they work for a cause greater than quarterly shareholder earnings – they work to improve the lives of Iowans.

Iowans may not know about the Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation. I sure didn't when I became CEO in 2013. I thought the company did good work, but was surprised when I understood the reach of the Foundation in improving Iowa's oral and overall health. I learned that there is a clear and solid link between oral health and overall health – and receiving dental care is one of the least expensive ways someone can impact their overall health.

Our Foundation arrived at two key strategic goals to achieve by 2020:

  1. Eliminate cavities in kids 0-12.
  2. Make sure older adults, most often those homebound and in nursing homes, have access to dental care.

Each of these goals would be significant on their own. Together they are critical to helping Iowans have better health outcomes.

The goal of eliminating cavities in kids is straightforward. We need to start early, which is why our Foundation began the Dentist by 1 campaign in Black Hawk County. This program, in collaboration with area dentists, strives to promote better oral health habits for parents and their newborn children by having each child see a dentist by age one. At first I thought, why should a child see a dentist before they really have teeth? The answer is that if parents have the education they need to care for their new child – and start the lifelong habit of good oral health – over a lifetime the results are incredible. And this last year we partnered with the Department of Public Health to expand the school-based sealant program from just a few counties to almost one third of the state of Iowa.

And why would we work to ensure seniors have access? In fact, this is a new problem for Iowans. The improvements in oral health that have happened in the past few decades have caused different challenges in working with seniors and their dental care. Frankly, 40 years ago, most homebound seniors and those at care facilities would not have had their own teeth. But as dental care has advanced, our teeth continue to be healthier and last longer. And we have helped to launch a wide-ranging coalition of care providers, non-profit and for-profit care facilities, dentists, hygienists and others to look at the program holistically.

The Intersection of Margin and Mission

So why would an insurance company focus its time on this? I believe there is an intersection of margin and mission. We clearly need to be profitable and build capital to protect our policyholders. But our employees' efforts go beyond that. We have a mission to serve Iowans in making sure that we are a part of the solution to improve the overall health of the state. We continue to work on the Healthiest State Initiative because we know dental care and oral health are a key component of being the number one state in the nation in health. We work through our Foundation on key initiatives because our mission is to improve the health and smiles of the people we serve.

So as you drive down the road and see Jason, Kaeden or Fran – the stories of real people in Sioux City, Cedar Rapids and Dubuque – remember that you can be a part of the solution as well. Email us at if you see a need in oral health where we can work together for a solution. We engage in this work to serve Iowans because it is a part of who we are and our mission to improve the health and smiles of the people we serve. We are proud to be an Iowa company giving back to Iowans.

Kaeden  Fran