The Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation is shifting its focus away from improving the oral health of all Iowans to zero in on two age groups — the very young and the very old. Suzanne Heckenlaible, the foundation’s executive director, says the first half of that new direction will target low-income Iowa children from birth through age 12. The ultimate goal would be to have all Iowa kids cavity-free by 2020.

Heckenlaible says, “Certainly, we would be looking to work with public health programs that are currently existing and really focusing in on the importance of a child seeing a dentist by age one as well as the importance of maintaining good dental hygiene and oral health habits.”

She says two examples are Head Start and the “I Smile” program offered by the Iowa Department of Public Health. A 2010 report found one in every ten Iowa children has untreated tooth decay. She adds, tooth decay is nearly 100% preventable. The second half of the foundation’s new focus is on ensuring every Iowa nursing home resident and homebound elderly person has access to oral health care by 2020.

“We really believe that unless we push the bar up to the very top, we won’t see key initiatives move forward,” Heckenlaible says. “Certainly the importance on oral health care access to the elderly population in this state is a priority.” She says the goal is that no elderly Iowans be living with dental pain while they should all be able to chew and eat their food.

Delta Dental of Iowa is the state’s largest provider of dental benefits. The Foundation focuses on access to care, prevention, education and research and last year distributed more than one-million dollars for oral health support and improvement projects in Iowa.