Building on their partnership with the Colorado Community College System (CCCS), the Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation has awarded three community colleges about $4 million in grants to expand access to dental hygiene programs in the fastest-growing areas of the states.
Governor Jared Polis joined Delta Dental executives and CCCS chancellor Joe Garcia to celebrate the new grant program at an event Monday. In his remarks, Governor Polis said the collaboration will curb critical workforce shortages in dental offices across the metro area.
“The better the dental health care is, the better healthcare is overall,” said Gov. Polis, noting that dental visits are up in Colorado. “We need to make sure that we have the professionals and support teams in place to meet that demand.”
Through the grant, Pikes Peak State College (PPSC) and Front Range Community College will receive about $2.5 million and $835,000, respectively, to launch new dental hygiene programs in 2025. Community College of Denver (CCD) will receive almost $890,000 to double capacity of its current program, which boasts a 100% success rate on clinical and written board exams.
While many CCCS colleges offer dental assistant programs, only CCD runs a dental hygiene program with two-year and four-year degree options. Expanding access will help the state meet demand for dental hygienist positions, which are expected to grow by 18% over the decade, according to the 2022 Colorado Talent Pipeline report.
In addition to closing skills gaps, the partnership aims to diversify the dental hygiene field, said Chancellor Garcia. The profession pays a median income of $97,000, offering a strong return on investment for CCCS students.
“We cannot meet our workforce gaps without doing a better job of educating underrepresented populations,” said Chancellor Garcia. “That’s why Delta Dental has emerged as such as strong partner. Their leadership recognizes the need to diversify their industry and is investing in our programs to make that possible.”
The grant program builds on a longstanding partnership between CCCS and Delta Dental. In 2018, their foundation gave a $1.5 million gift to the Foundation for Colorado Community Colleges to fund scholarships for dental hygiene students, prioritizing learners of color.
“Our investment is doubling the number of dental hygienists that will come out of school, ready to practice, ready to train or teach, and most importantly, ready to educate all patients on the importance of oral healthcare,” said Helen Drexler, the CEO of Delta Dental. “By partnering with these schools, we’re going to ensure that every Colorado has the ability to access excellent dental care.”
Paola Hernandez, a dental assistant student at PPSC, expects to take full advantage of the program when it launches in the coming years. As a child, her family put off dental care due to cost and language barriers. Now an intern at an orthodontic office, Hernandez enjoys connecting with young people and educating them about oral health.
“I want my patients to know that I care about and understand the importance of their smile,” she said. “Believe me, balancing school and work has been very challenging, but it is worth the sleepless nights to embark on my career journey.”