Our History | Delta Dental of Washington

We’ve always focused on what truly matters—your healthy smile. It drives everything we do.

Sixty years ago, dentistry was considered uninsurable. Tooth decay and gum disease were more a certainty than a risk and dentures were all but common in adults over 50. Most people went to the dentist only in the case of an emergency; relatively few went once a year let alone twice. Insurance companies believed that only people who needed major repairs would be willing to buy dental insurance. Into the picture steps the trustees of a Welfare Fund operated by the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU), representing Pacific Coast dockworkers and the Pacific Martine Association. 

In early 1954, the trustees agreed to finance an experimental dental program for the children of the union members. State dental associations in Washington, Oregon and California were invited to help design the program. It was the first time a labor union had ever negotiated for benefits that would apply only to the children of its members. It was also the first time dentists were ever invited to help design such a program.

With an emphasis on prevention, the dentists wanted to ensure the children received the best treatment possible. Nearly 500 dentists, about two-thirds of the total number of dentists in Washington signed up to participate in the program. In October of 1954, the Washington State Dental Service Corporation, predecessor of Delta Dental of Washington and the National Delta Dental Plans Association was born.

 What began as a small “startup” that few expected to last more than a year became the pioneer of a new industry, one that has redefined the nature of oral health and dental care.

Here’s a brief timeline of our history:


  • Thank you, Washington, for 60 years of smiles!


  • We and our foundation provided $5 million to fund the Center for Pediatric Dentistry, a partnership between the University of Washington School of Dentistry and Seattle Children’s Hospital


  • We endowed $2 million to the UW School of Dentistry to help teach essential business skills to dentists


  • The SmileMobile hits the road! It’s travelled over 100,000 miles and provided dental care to over 30,000 low-income children


  • The Washington Dental Service Foundation is born, with the mission to improve the oral and overall health of people in Washington


  • Dental benefits become a standard element in employee benefits packages


  • We jumped aboard the computer revolution and got our first computerized claims-processing system


  • Our staff grew to 19!


  • We joined with 3 other pioneering dental benefit companies to found the Delta Dental Plans Association


  • It cost $10 for dental x-rays, $5 for cleanings, $6 for an extraction, and $5 for a filling


  • Like David Copperfield, we are born