Alumni on the frontlines of dental care

Three UCSC alumni spearhead equitable dental care access to Santa Cruz County seniors

[From left to right] Anita Aguirre, Kenzie Ferguson, and Kristyn Glenn.

Three UC Santa Cruz alumni are at the forefront of increasing accessibility for senior dental healthcare in Santa Cruz County. 

Anita Aguirre, Kenzie Ferguson, and Kristyn Glenn joined forces through a partnership spearheaded by the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation— the philanthropic arm of Delta Dental of California—and two local nonprofits, Salud Para La Gente and Dientes Community Dental Care:

Anita Aguirre (Kresge ’93, sociology and women’s studies): Deputy Director and Chief Compliance Officer at Salud Para La Gente, a nonprofit healthcare organization with 10 clinics and 3 mobile units in Santa Cruz County and North Monterey County. 

Kenzie Ferguson (Porter ’93, Russian studies): Vice President of Foundation and Corporate Social Responsibility at Delta Dental of California.

Kristyn Glenn (Stevenson ’13, environmental studies and global economics): Associate Director of Development and Communications at Dientes Community Dental Care, a nonprofit healthcare organization with four clinics in Santa Cruz County.

They plan to expand dental care access to thousands of seniors in Santa Cruz County.  

The fact that three dental professionals are also Banana Slugs was a happy coincidence, but it highlights the impact alumni can have on their community. In 2022, Kenzie Ferguson and a team from the Community Care Foundation set out to introduce new healthcare partners to its Senior Oral Health Coalition Program. Of nine applications across California, Salud and Dientes caught Delta Dental’s attention. 

“What truly impressed us was the previous collaboration between Dientes and Salud Para La Gente in addressing oral health challenges, coupled with the formidable capabilities of both organizations and their strategic proximity,” Ferguson said. “We reviewed numerous applications from all over California and found that this collaboration harmonized well with our ongoing initiatives, making it a standout choice.” 

Dientes and Salud Para La Gente combined serve 70 percent of low income seniors aged 65 and older that receive dental care in Santa Cruz County. 

The 2021 National Institutes of Health “Oral Health in America” report cited adults aged 65 and older as the most critically underserved for oral health care in the U.S. The number is even lower in Santa Cruz County, where a 2022 oral health needs assessment revealed that only one in four seniors with Medicaid could get the dental care they needed. 

By 2034 there will be more than 77 million people over 65 in the U.S.

“That’s a huge group of people, Ferguson said. “With dental not covered in Medicare, a substantial number of retirees find themselves without dental insurance, exacerbating this pressing concern." 

Delta Dental and the Community Care Foundation recognize the significance of collaborating with Dientes Community Dental Care and Salud Para La Gente, as it will facilitate the development of transformative programs aimed at enhancing health equity and improving the oral health of older adults, particularly those from underserved or vulnerable communities.

Salud Para La Gente is designated as a federally qualified health center (FQHC) and Dientes Community Dental Care is an FQHC subrecipient. This means that the two outpatient clinics qualify for specific federal reimbursement systems and are held to certain standards and regulations. 

“We are missioned and mandated to serve the uninsured and low-income, and as a result, we offer sliding fee scales,” Aguirre said. “So that is one of the main strategies in providing equitable care; we see people regardless of their ability to pay and whether or not they have insurance.”

With the support of the Community Care Foundation , the two organizations hope they will be able to hire additional providers to serve more patients, increase free care through outreach and education, and bring dental care to seniors’ doorsteps, especially for those that struggle with mobility and transportation. 

“Oftentimes, we take our health for granted, especially oral health,” Glenn said. “But it is pivotal to overall health and connected to things like heart disease and diabetes. And for seniors, good oral health can mean eating solid foods or talking clearly. Beyond its impact on overall health, it’s important for individual well-being and is foundational to a thriving community. Everyone deserves the dignity that comes with a healthy smile.” 

The partnership between the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation, Dientes Community Dental Care, and Salud Para La Gente will run for five years and aims to build a replicable model that can serve other communities and create change elsewhere. 

From UC Santa Cruz to Dental Health Care

Anita Aguirre saw a career in public health as a way to actualize her feminist values. Many feminist studies courses she took at UCSC led her to the Santa Cruz Women’s Health Center, where she completed an internship.

“That was just a pivotal moment in terms of my thinking and being.”

Afterward, Aguirre went to UCLA, where she got a masters in public health grounded in her feminist values. She spent the first 16 years of her career working in sexual and reproductive health, helping women take control of their lives. She said she has a solid connection to her UCSC education and her current work. 

Kenzie Ferguson attributes her personal growth and development to the supportive faculty and fellow students within the UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) community. During her time at UCSC, she had the remarkable opportunity to immerse herself in Russian studies, studying abroad amidst the backdrop of the Cold War and the subsequent fall of the Soviet Union.

"My concentration was on language, which allowed me to grasp the essence of individuals through a different lens," Ferguson shared. "One of the invaluable aspects of my education at UC Santa Cruz was the establishment of a strong foundation in respecting, collaborating with, and comprehending different perspectives."

She pursued an MBA, lived in the Netherlands for many years, and is now working towards a Ph.D. in international business.  

Kristyn Glenn says that the importance of community was ingrained into her early on in her time at UCSC. She was a resident advisor (RA) and lived on campus for three years. She said that experiencing community within the college system helped make a big university feel small, both within her classes and as an RA.

“I learned at UCSC that a flourishing community takes care of one another,” she said. “By the time I graduated, I had fallen so in love with Santa Cruz County that I was determined to put down roots and give back to the community that felt like home.”

Glenn said that working in the nonprofit sector was the most seamless way to stay connected to her roots and sense of community.