Bulletin of Dental Education

Western University and the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation Collaborate to Support Oral Biopsies Save Lives

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The Delta Dental Community Care Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Delta Dental of California, has teamed up with Western University of Health Sciences (WU) College of Dental Medicine (CDM) to advance equity in oral pathology laboratory testing to tribal and urban health programs across California. The program, titled, Oral Biopsies Save Lives, will offer no-cost oral pathology services and continuing education courses to 34 rural and urban dental clinics operated by 107 tribes.

WU Health Oral Pathology Laboratory will help California tribal and urban American Indian programs reduce health inequities by providing no-cost oral pathology testing services for low-income, uninsured and underinsured patients, including seniors. 

Oral lesions and oral manifestations of systemic disease are potentially fatal diseases if undiagnosed or untreated.

“We are extremely grateful to the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation for their continued support of WesternU Health Oral Diagnostics,” said Elizabeth Andrews, D.D.S., M.S., Dean of WU CDM. “WesternU CDM is honored to increase access to oral pathology lab testing.”

“This grant shows the humanism of our College and University,” said Suzanne Adolphson, M.S.W., M.H.A., SHRM-SCP, WU CDM Assistant Dean for Patient Care Services.

In total, WU CDM received a $300,000 grant from the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation. WU CDM also received $74,717 to provide no-cost oral pathology testing to underserved patients from tribal and urban health programs across California.

According to a 2019 Oral Health Needs Assessment Survey conducted by the California Tribal Epidemiology Center (CTEC), a lack of specialty care in dental clinics is the biggest barrier to high-quality oral health care at tribal and urban health programs.

Oral health care providers are often the first providers to perform intraoral examinations and notice signs of oral squamous cell carcinoma and potentially malignant disorders (PMDs). The American Cancer Society’s estimated number of new oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer cases in the United States in 2022 is 54,000, while the estimated number of deaths from oral cavity and pharyngeal cancers in 2022 is 11,230.

“Dentists play an important role in detecting, diagnosing and managing people with intraoral tumors and cysts. Low cost or free diagnostic testing can accelerate diagnosis times and save lives,” said Mark Mintline, D.D.S., WU Health Oral Pathology Laboratory Director.

The major risk factors for oral cavity squamous cell carcinoma include tobacco use, alcohol consumption and betel quid. Data from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health indicate that American Indians have substantially more high commercial tobacco-related cancers compared to the general population.

“Oral pathology services are critical to the early detection of oropharyngeal cancers and diagnosis of other lesions, especially for American Indians in California who suffer disproportionately from oropharyngeal cancers,” said Michael Donaleski, D.M.D., California Indian Health Service Area Dental Consultant.

The collaboration between the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation and WU CDM, along with support from the California Rural Indian Health Board, Inc., aims to reduce the number of health care providers needed to diagnose oral lesions.

“We are proud to partner with Western University of Health Sciences’ College of Dental Medicine in their mission to improve the lives and health care outcomes of underserved patients,” said Kenzie Ferguson, Vice President of Foundation and Corporate Social Responsibility for Delta Dental of California. “This partnership helps us achieve our broader mutual goals of increasing access to oral health care and providing opportunities for oral health education.”

About Delta Dental Community Care Foundation
The Delta Dental Community Care Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Delta Dental of California and its affiliated companies including Delta Dental Insurance Company, Delta Dental of Pennsylvania and Delta Dental of New York, Inc. Since 2011, the Community Care Foundation has awarded more than $130 million in funding and support to increase access to quality dental care, oral health education and to advance scientific research across the company’s 15-state service area and Washington, D.C. For more information about the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation, please visit https://www1.deltadentalins.com/foundation.html.

About Western University of Health Sciences
Western University of Health Sciences (www.westernu.edu), located in Pomona, Calif. and Lebanon, Ore., is an independent, nonprofit health professions university, conferring degrees in dental medicine, health sciences, medical sciences, nursing, optometry, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy, physician assistant studies, podiatric medicine and veterinary medicine. WU is home to WesternU Health, where the best in collaborative health care services is offered.

Courtesy of the Western University of Health Sciences College of Dental Medicine

Published on October 11, 2023

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