Benefits administrator blog from Delta Dental

Tag: Delta Dental Community Care Foundation

Increasing access to care for underserved communities

How do we as a country start improving access to oral health care? How can we better serve the hard-to-reach populations who need it most? These are difficult questions, but there are few better places to start talking about answers than with Lisenia Collazo, DMD.

Dr. Collazo was born in Pennsylvania but spent her childhood and college years in Puerto Rico. She returned to the States to attend Penn Dental Medicine, where she pursued her DMD alongside a master’s in public health. During her time at Penn Dental, she was awarded a Delta Dental Community Scholarship, which provides students who demonstrate a strong commitment to improving access to care with sizeable scholarship assistance.

We reached out to Dr. Collazo to discuss how the scholarship helped to shape her current work and her perspective on the future of improving access to care.

How and when did you decide to become a dentist?

Growing up, I spent a lot of time with two of my older cousins who happened to be dental assistants. I visited them a few times at the clinic where they used to work, and I got to see how a dental practice was run behind the scenes. By the time I was getting ready to graduate high school in Puerto Rico, I was lucky enough to visit the University of Puerto Rico’s Medical Sciences Campus and get an introduction to the different programs. Visiting the dental school, seeing how hands-on the training was, the blend of medicine and art, along with the experience I already had, it all really solidified my interest in dentistry as a career.

How did your interest in improving access to care develop?

Once I decided to pursue dentistry as my career, that’s when I started to notice how few people seek out dental care. They just let their oral health deteriorate. That’s due to a lot of factors, but I believe the main issue is the disconnect between dentistry and the rest of the medical field. Insurance plans are segregated from medical insurance, and there’s low oral health literacy in the general population and a lack of diversity among providers. Once I learned about those issues, I wanted to help patients become more comfortable with coming to the dentist and to educate myself about how to best improve access to care from an administrative standpoint.

How did being named a Delta Dental Community Scholar help you on your journey?

While I was in dental school, I was also in the community service honors program. I learned about the Delta Dental Community Scholarship during that time. The scholarship just helped me to solidify my commitment to working in underserved communities. That kind of scholarship helps to bring providers to patient populations that need them the most.

Coming from a low socioeconomic and minority background myself, I’m appreciative of the assistance those programs give because it helps students who are already committed to giving back to their communities, and it eases the burden that comes with student loan debt. As education becomes more and more expensive, it’s difficult to get providers to work in those underserved areas. Scholarship programs like the Delta Dental Community Scholarship truly help to get care to the people who need it the most.

You completed your DMD along with a master’s degree in public health. Why did you decide to pursue both degrees and could you describe how having both has shaped your career and outlook?

One of the reasons I chose to attend Penn Dental was because I was already aware of their dual degree program. I was very happy to be selected as one of the students they gave the opportunity to receive additional education alongside their DMD. Completing the master’s in public health during my time at Penn Dental basically helped me learn more about the policies that affect our patients’ health and what strategies we can use to make an impact at a higher level beyond what we can do chairside.

Can you describe your work since graduation?

During my senior year of dental school, I applied to the National Health Service Corps’ Students to Service Loan Repayment Program. I was awarded a significant amount of money to use towards my student loans. In exchange, I’ll work three years in an underserved area.

Dr. Lisenia Collazo
Dr. Lisenia Collazo grew up in Puerto Rico. She says she finds the winters in the Upper Peninsula very cold but beautiful.

During my residency, I began to look for available sites. I got an offer in my current location, which is Upper Great Lakes Family Health Center in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It’s an underserved area, so a lot of our patients are either on Medicaid or do not have insurance.

The Upper Peninsula is extremely rural, and a lot of our patients drive hundreds of miles just to get care. The family health center I work with has about eight sites; two have dental clinics, and they’re in the process of opening more to make travel easier for our patients. It’s the same issue when they seek specialist care. If there’s a case where we have to refer to an oral surgeon or an endodontist, that’s very difficult for these patients. There just aren’t many providers here.

The population I work with is also located in a food desert. There’s mostly convenience stores that don’t have the most nutritious options. We see a high incidence of caries, and we see a lot of patients without any teeth at a very young age. Our mission is to educate patients — especially those with children — early on so we can prevent them from getting to that state later on in their life.

How far along are you in your three years of service? What are your plans after?

In July, it will be two years. I plan to stay here longer. I’m not exactly sure how long yet. I want to continue working in public health and to get my student loans forgiven through the government’s public service loan forgiveness program. I would have eight more years to go with that. I’ve considered staying here the remainder of those eight years, but as an Afro-Latina woman, I would also eventually like to go to a community with more Hispanic patients.

What do you love most about being a dentist?

Empowering patients through education is one of the most rewarding things that comes with the career. The most difficult thing when it comes to patients receiving health care is that there’s low health literacy.

I also love helping patients feel at ease in the dental chair and learn to trust health care providers by building those relationships. Diversity and representation truly matter. As a dentist who is a woman and also Afro-Latina, I’m happy to see more women and people of color entering the medical field because that does make a difference when it comes to patients coming in to receive care.


The Delta Dental Community Care Foundation has endowed in perpetuity the awarding of two Community Scholarships each year to Penn Dental students who desire to work in an underserved area after graduation. The Foundation works with nonprofit partners across our 15-state and Washington, D.C. enterprise to increase access to oral health care, fund oral health education and support organizations that serve vital needs in our communities. The 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.

Delta Dental’s community contributions in 2021

With the challenges and disruptions of the pandemic, 2021 looked very different from many years that came before it. But Delta Dental’s devotion to giving back to the community hasn’t wavered. We’re committed to caring for our dentists, customers and communities, especially during hard times. Here’s how Delta Dental gave back during a challenging 2021.

Preparing for the future

Delta Dental's 2021 giving included $1.5 million to fight food insecurity, $2 million to scholarships and education, $13 million to health centers, $3.5 million to disaster relief and community giving, $400,000 in company matching donations, 25,000 dental kits, 6,000 volunteer hours and $400,000 in employee donations.

The Delta Dental Community Care Foundation’s Access to Care Grants totaled more than $12 million in 2021. Dental clinics across the country — from the Kids’ Community Clinic in Burbank, California, to the Ryan Health Center in New York — received these awards to help underserved individuals in our communities get preventive and restorative treatments in accessible locations.

Our scholarships and research grants supported partnerships for education and the development of future dental professionals. Our educational giving included a $700,000 donation to make the CATCH Healthy Smiles oral health program free in schools across the country for children in kindergarten through second grade.  The program is designed to improve the oral health of students by teaching about and encouraging proper toothbrushing and flossing techniques, a nutritious diet and regular visits to a dentist.

Fighting food insecurity and responding to disaster

Forty-two million people may face hunger in the U.S. — including more than 13 million children — because of the pandemic, according to Feeding America. Delta Dental is committed to addressing food insecurity. In 2021, we gave $1.5 million to food banks to help them respond to the challenges of the pandemic and serve communities in need.

This year was also marked by natural disasters, and Delta Dental was there to provide support. Through our Disaster Fund, we continued our longtime partnership with the Red Cross. We also provided support for wildfire recovery in California and helped with recovery from Hurricane Ida in New Orleans through the Greater New Orleans Project and the St. Bernard Project.

Community councils

Delta Dental has four employee-led community councils that provide small grants to causes and events that employees are passionate about. In 2021, we funded a broad range of causes and issues through our community councils, from social justice and education to chronic disease research and education. Local nonprofits received roughly $700,000 from our community councils.

Committed volunteers

Service is a core value at Delta Dental. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, many of our employees volunteered and donated in 2021.

Employees have so far volunteered nearly 6,000 hours and donated nearly $400,000 ― which the company has matched ― to roughly 800 different causes, from animal welfare and conservation to chronic diseases and supporting our troops. Our employees also assembled and helped distribute nearly 25,000 dental kits to those in need including children, adults with chronic health conditions, seniors, veterans and more.

Looking ahead

In 2022, we’ll still face many of the challenges of the previous years. But no matter what lies ahead, we remain committed to providing support for our communities.

Kids’ unmet oral health needs highlighted by the pandemic

When your employees become parents, they receive an onslaught of information about their child’s growth markers and health checkups from immunizations to well-child visits. When it comes to dental care, however, less than half of parents receive professional advice on when to start taking their child to the dentist.

And lack of guidance is only the beginning of the problem. Access to dental care has been an ongoing challenge for U.S. children, but during the pandemic, dental care emerged as children’s greatest unmet health need, according to a recent study published in JADA.

What does this mean for your employees and their children, and what can you do to support them?

The pandemic’s effect on pediatric oral health

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, dental disease among children was rampant:

The pandemic made these problems worse by stressing the financial systems that delivers dental care with income and job losses. Households were three times more likely to identify dental care as an unmet health need as a result of the pandemic compared to medical care, according to a JADA study. The authors found a significant association between the probability of unmet child dental care and pandemic-related household income or job loss.

About 40% of families reported the loss of a job or decrease in income due to the pandemic. Before the pandemic, children from families with lower income or who were on Medicaid were twice as likely to have cavities than children from higher-income households. Whether due to lost or decreased income, fear of contracting COVID-19 and mixed communication from health organizations, dental care visits dropped in 2020.

Many people were able to stay covered for medical procedures due to robust signups for Medicare and Medicaid pandemic. But cost remains the major barrier to receiving dental care, since Medicare and Medicaid packages rarely cover many dental procedures. Although access to pediatric dental care has grown for families with public insurance since the early 2000s, kids in low-income families are still less likely to visit the dentist regularly. Additional barriers include difficulty finding a willing dentist, transportation and geographic proximity to dental providers.

Potential solutions for children’s unmet oral health needs

As a benefit administrator, you can invest time into communication efforts that may bridge knowledge gaps among your employees. Here are a couple of ways you can get started:

  • Talk about timelines. Inform your employees about recommended timelines for pediatric care to guarantee they get the information they need, whether or not their dentists communicate that information.
  • Design your package. When you’re designing your benefits package, cover important preventive services for kids, like sealants and fluoride treatments.
  • Highlight plan features. Encourage employees to take advantage of aspects of their insurance, like teledentistry coverage, that can make pediatric care easier. Did you know that 75% of pediatric dentists offer virtual services, compared to only a third of general dentists?
  • Share materials. Explore Delta Dental’s wellness resources and share a selection of helpful articles and flyers in an email or on an internal site. You can even highlight assets that are made for kids, like MySmileKids and Grin! for Kids.
  • Be consistent. When communicating helpful information to your employees, using multiple channels can be confusing and difficult to keep track of. Find a simple routine for sharing, like posting information on an internal webpage with monthly or quarterly email notifications, so that your employees always know where to look.

How Delta Dental invests in communities

To help dentists make investments in their communities, the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation awards several million dollars in grants each year to increase access to care. These awards enable underserved individuals, including children, to get preventive and restorative treatments in accessible locations. More than 250 organizations received funding from the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation during the COVID-19 pandemic, totaling $11 million to provide relief. Many of these clinics support and serve children.

These Access to Care grants fund activities designed to remove barriers to seeking care such as distance, cost, and even fear. The grants can be used to set up mobile or pop-up clinics in a local community, provide dental care in underserved clinical settings, fund outreach programs or offset costs for clinics that routinely provide care to underserved populations.

What comes next

There will probably be some relief for underserved communities, including children, soon. The U.S. economy seems to be recovering. The national unemployment rate is projected to fall to 5.3% by the end of the year.

But the problems highlighted by the pandemic shouldn’t be ignored. As a benefits administrator, you can’t be expected to fix all of the problems in the American economy or health care industry. Still, by highlighting resources and keeping your employees informed, you can positively affect the employees you work with and their children.

5 ways Delta Dental is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

Delta Dental is working to support our customers, dentists and local communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some of the ways we’re responding to this health and financial crisis.

1. Charitable giving to vital services

The Delta Dental Community Care Foundation has provided nearly $15 million this year to help nonprofits respond to the pandemic. These unrestricted grant funds have supported essential services, including dozens of dental and medical clinics serving low-income communities across our 15-state service area and the District of Columbia.

To help feed vulnerable communities during skyrocketing food insecurity, we’ve also contributed $2.5 million to food banks in Alabama, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New York, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

2. Dentist loan program

Partnering with Provide (formerly known as Lendeavor), Delta Dental has offered over $300 million in loan programs to provide economic relief for qualifying independent network dentists.

The loan program, which extends through the end of the year, covers cash flow relief as well as interest savings. It also includes loans that dentists can use to acquire, refinance, expand or equip a practice, as well as to acquire or refinance commercial real estate for a practice.

3. Relief for groups, individuals and brokers

We’ve offered various forms of premium relief to all lines of our business to help alleviate the financial strain of the pandemic on our individual customers and group clients. To provide further support, we’ve made adjustments to many of our contract policies to help clients weather the financial impact of the pandemic.

4. PPE and infection control reimbursement for dentists

The new costs of practicing during a pandemic have added to the financial strain on our network dentists. To help, Delta Dental launched a supplemental reimbursement program for network dentists.

The temporary program, which runs through the end of the year, is meant to help dentists adjust to the new conditions under COVID-19 as they plan for 2021. Under the program, network dentists receive an additional $10 per patient per qualifying service to help cover the costs of additional personal protective equipment and other infection control practices.

5. Teledentistry resources

Delta Dental has encouraged dentists and patients to consider teledentistry options for diagnostic and emergency dental services. Teledentistry, or virtual consultation via phone, text or video, offers a safe, convenient choice and can expand access to care for patients who might otherwise not see a dentist.

We’re offering discounts and free trials on HIPAA-compliant teledentistry services to Delta Dental dentists and are building partnerships with teledentistry companies to improve the experience for our customers and network dentists.

Brightening smiles and futures in 2018

The holiday season, often referred to as the “season of giving”, is winding down. But why limit giving to a couple months out of the year? Thanks to some incredible organizations and charities, the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation* donated nearly $16 million to support more than 400 projects throughout 2018, each with the goal of building healthier, happier communities. 

As the year comes to an end, we’d like to thank these partners, and highlight just a few of the great projects we had the opportunity to sponsor in 2018. Take a look. 

Delta Dental Community Care Foundation 2018 Grant Highlights
Click map to enlarge.

We can’t wait to see what 2019 brings! In the years to come, we pledge to give at least 10% of our net income back to charitable organizations aligned with our purpose: Creating smiles. Improving health. Enhancing lives.®

If you have a project you want sponsored, learn about our funding options and apply on the Community Center section of our website.

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*The Delta Dental Community Care Foundation is the philanthropic arm of our Delta Dental enterprise. It provides funding and support to advance research, education and access to dental care across our enterprise. Our Delta Dental enterprise includes these companies in these states: Delta Dental of California — CA, Delta Dental of the District of Columbia — DC, Delta Dental of Pennsylvania — PA & MD, Delta Dental of West Virginia, Inc. — WV, Delta Dental of Delaware, Inc. — DE, Delta Dental of New York, Inc. — NY, Delta Dental Insurance Company — AL, DC, FL, GA, LA, MS, MT, NV, TX and UT. All of our companies are members, or affiliates of members, of the Delta Dental Plans Association.

Stories to smile about: David

We believe creating healthy smiles extends beyond providing exceptional dental benefits to your employees. That’s why the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation makes it a priority to support groups and projects with the goal of improving health and enhancing lives in the communities we serve. While any positive impact we can make is important, there are some stories that give us all the feels, like this one that came to us from the Grady Health System Oral Health Center.

Thanks to the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation, Grady Health System Oral Health Center was recently able to provide prosthetic dental treatment to a young man named David.* David lost several teeth — including his two front teeth — after being brutally attacked by a group of strangers while walking home one evening. Not only did he lose his teeth, but he lost his self-confidence and self-worth.

In addition to the injuries suffered from his attack, David had lived for nine years without needed dental care or prosthetics because he was unable to afford it. Thanks to your generous grant we changed that. He was so happy and grateful to receive his dentures. When he first put them on for a fitting, he sat and stared in the mirror for nearly 10 minutes. Tears of joy streamed down his face. 

This was such a rewarding experience for both David and the dental resident who assisted him. We would not have been able to help David in this way — and many others like him — without the generosity of Delta Dental and your continued support of the Grady Oral Health Center’s Removable Prosthetics Initiative. Thank you.

Do you have a project that qualifies for funding? Visit the Community Center section of our website to learn more and apply for funding.

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*This story has been modified to protect the identity of the patient.

Grady Health System Oral Health Center treats an average of 2,000 patients per year by providing a full range of preventive, restorative and prosthetic dental services. It is the only dental clinic in Metro Atlanta that exclusively treats low-income patients living with HIV/AIDS, a population with a high rate of oral health issues. The Foundation awarded them $10,000 in 2017, which was the first year they applied for a grant.

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