The Delta Dental Community Care Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Delta Dental of California, has teamed up with Western University of Health Sciences (WesternU) 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.
WesternU Health Oral Pathology Laboratory will help California Tribal and Urban 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 WesternU College of Dental Medicine Dean Elizabeth Andrews, DDS, MS. “WesternU CDM is honored to increase access to oral pathology lab testing.”
“This grant shows the humanism of our College and University,” said CDM Assistant Dean for Patient Care Services Suzanne Adolphson, MSW, MHA, SHRM-SCP.
In total, WesternU CDM received a $300,000 grant from the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation. WesternU 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. WesternU Health Oral Pathology Laboratory will help California Tribal and Urban Indian Programs reduce health inequities by providing no-cost oral pathology testing services for low income, uninsured, and underinsured patients.
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 U.S. 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 WesternU Health Oral Pathology Laboratory Director Mark Mintline, DDS.
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 California Indian Health Service Area Dental Consultant Michael Donaleski, DMD.
The collaboration between the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation and WesternU, along with support from the California Rural Indian Health Board, Inc. (CRIHB), 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.”