Benefits administrator blog from Delta Dental

Tag: dental care

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.

Healthy mouth, healthy mind

Could flossing every day help prevent depression? Does having anxiety increase the risk for developing gum disease?

The relationship between mental health and oral health is a cyclical one. More and more research is revealing that keeping a healthy mouth is an important part of keeping a healthy mind, and vice versa. People with mental health issues are less likely to take proper care of their oral health, and conversely, good oral health can enhance mental and overall well-being.

For Mental Health Awareness Month this May, take some time to remind your employees of the often-overlooked relationship between dental hygiene and mental health. You can use Delta Dental resources to help them understand that caring for their oral health is a central part of caring for their mental health.

The relationship between the mouth and the mind

Oral health and mental health are more closely linked than many people realize. Mental health issues can cause people to brush and floss at irregular intervals, skip dentist visits, maintain unhealthy diets and self-medicate with smoking or drug use, resulting in gum disease and tooth decay.

Some of the mental illnesses that can negatively impact oral health include:

  • Anxiety. Anxiety and dental phobia can stop people from seeing their dentist regularly, which can harm their oral health. In addition, medications prescribed for anxiety can cause dry mouth. Without saliva to rinse away food debris, plaque and bacteria, cavities can form more easily.
  • Depression. Depression is associated with higher abuse of alcohol, coffee and tobacco, all of which can cause tooth erosion and decay. Depression can also lead to self-neglect, which results in poor oral hygiene.
  • Eating disorders. Acids from vomiting make patients with eating disorders more susceptible to tooth decay.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder. The condition often causes over-brushing that may damage gums and cause dental abrasion, mucosal lacerations or gingival lacerations.
  • Schizophrenia and psychosis. These serious mental health conditions can cause people to forego dental care, eat poorly and neglect oral hygiene. Side effects of antipsychotic and mood stabilizer drugs may include a higher susceptibility to oral bacterial infections.

Certain mental health conditions can exacerbate poor oral health, and the converse is often also true: Poor oral health can make mental health issues worse. Oral health problems can lead to more frequent pain experience, social isolation and low self-esteem, reducing quality of life and in turn diminishing mental well-being.

A recent study even showed a strong association between chronic gingivitis and subsequent depression. More research is needed to fully understand the connection, but it highlights that maintaining oral health is a crucial part of maintaining a healthy and happy life.

Helping your employees maintain their mental health and oral health

No matter what issues your employees are facing, it’s important to remind them to keep up with routine oral health care and dental visits. Encourage employees to maintain healthy habits like cutting back on sugar, reducing stress, eating a balanced diet and quitting smoking. Staying hydrated, exercising and maintaining a good social support system are also crucial to maintaining mental health through difficult times.

The following resources can help you remind employees to care for their oral health while maintaining their mental well-being. With Delta Dental resources, you can:

Mental health affects the health of the entire body, including oral health. It’s an important link that unfortunately, many people don’t understand. For Mental Health Awareness Month, remind your employees that there is no mental health without oral health.

How gum disease is connected to overall health

When your employees want to improve their health, chances are they’ll start by improving their diet, beginning an exercise program or quitting bad habits like smoking.

These are all fantastic ways to get healthier, but your employees may not realize that their gums are also crucial to their overall well-being. This February for Gum Disease Awareness Month, remind employees of the often-overlooked connection between gum health and overall health.

The connection between gum disease and overall health

Gum disease, or periodontal disease, is a common bacterial infection that causes a chronic inflammation of the gums and surrounding tissue. It’s the major cause of adult tooth loss, and it affects nearly half of people over 30, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The effects of gum disease extend well beyond the mouth. Gum disease has been linked to a number of serious health conditions, including:

  • Heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Inflammation from bacteria in the gums may eventually lead to narrowing of arteries and heart trouble.
  • Dementia. Chronic gum inflammation can be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
  • Glaucoma. Tooth loss and gum disease may increase the risk of this disease of the optic nerve.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. The bacterium that causes periodontal disease may increase the severity of rheumatoid arthritis, lead to an earlier onset of the disease and cause symptoms to progress more quickly.
  • Diabetes. People with diabetes are at increased risk of developing gum disease. In turn, having gum disease can make your blood glucose harder to control.
  • Premature birth and low birth weight. Pregnant women are at increased risk of gum disease due to hormonal changes and increased blood flow. Gum disease is associated with an increased risk of preterm birth, as well as low birth weight and other pregnancy complications.

Early treatment of gum disease can effectively lower health costs in the long term. The devastating effects of the condition in its developed stages are largely preventable when employees stay informed and take action.

Ways to keep your employees informed

Your employees may be unaware of the connection between gum disease and overall health. What’s more, many of them may not realize they have gum disease. The condition isn’t usually painful, and many people don’t know they have gum disease until it progresses to more serious conditions, such as tooth loss.

Delta Dental has a wealth of resources you can use to educate your employees during Gum Disease Awareness Month and beyond. You can:

How your Delta Dental coverage can support employees’ gum health

Routine dental checkups and cleanings, covered by all Delta Dental plan as diagnostic and preventive services, can help prevent and monitor gum disease.

Treatments for gum disease, such as scaling and root planing, are typically covered under most dental plans under periodontic services.

When non-surgical treatment is inadequate, Delta Dental’s standard plans offer several surgical treatments to slow down or prevent the progression of the disease. Common procedures include:

  • Gingivectomy. Diseased gum tissue is removed and reshaped to get rid of pockets between the teeth and gums.
  • Gingival flap surgery. Gum tissue is separated from surrounding teeth and deflected back to allow a dental surgeon access to the jawbone and the root of the tooth for deep scaling and root planning.
  • Osseous Surgery. Also called pocket reduction surgery, this procedure eliminates the bacteria populating the pockets by cutting the gums to remove the bacteria and repair the damaged bone.
  • Bone grafting. This procedure increases the amount of bone in a part of the jaw where bone has been lost or where additional support is needed. Bone may be taken from elsewhere in the body and surgically fused to existing bone in the jaw.

Employees with chronic conditions may be at a higher risk for gum disease. SmileWay® Wellness Benefits offers additional coverage for gum treatment for those diagnosed with diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis or stroke.

Looking to improve your support for employees with or at risk of gum disease? Talk to your Account Manager about how your dental plan can improve employee health and reduce long-term costs.

Why dentist offices are safe

As your employees consider a visit to the dentist, they may be concerned about potential exposure to the coronavirus. Fortunately, the steps that dentists take to protect themselves, their staff and their patients from COVID-19 means that a trip to the dentist is actually quite safe. Here are the facts.

Dentists do all they can to make their office safe

As health care professionals, dentists and their staff follow strict infection control protocol. Over 99% of dentists have implemented enhanced infection prevention and control processes, according to the American Dental Association.

That hard work has certainly paid off; fewer than 1% of dentists nationwide have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the same study. That’s pretty impressive when you consider that dentists spend their days working on people’s mouths!

Here’s how dentists have accomplished this feat:

  • New technology has become more common as dentists’ offices have adapted to the realities of the pandemic. That means when people visit the dentist, they can expect to see machines like air purifiers, high-volume evacuators, infrared thermometers and hand sanitizer stations.
  • New processes such as rinses with disinfecting mouthwash and enhanced suction during cleanings and exams are now the norm at many dentists’ offices. These strategies help inactivate viruses in patients’ mouths and droplets in the air, allowing dentists to help fight the spread of infection. Dentists may also rely on teledentistry for exams rather than have patients come into the office.
  • New policies like having patients wait in the car to be seen and seeing fewer patients concurrently help reduce the risk of infection as well. The less time patients spend in the office and the fewer things they touch while there means less chance of exposure to COVID-19.

The steps take not prevent the spread of COVID-19 will vary from dentist office to office, but for a more in-depth overview of what your employees can expect, refer them to Grin!, our enrollee wellness e‑magazine.

Why employees might not want to visit the dentist (and why they should)

When people explain why they don’t want to go to the dentist during the pandemic, there are a few common reasons. It’s natural to have concerns about safety and costs, but it’s also important to realize that there are risks when it comes to avoiding the dentist as well.

  • “I want to socially distance as much as possible until I’ve been vaccinated.” This is a perfectly valid concern. At the same time, a visit to the dentist carries less risk of exposure than visiting other indoor areas. Dentists have the tools and training to minimize the spread of infectious diseases like coronavirus.
  • “I don’t want to sit in a crowded waiting room.” The good news is, dentists don’t want people sitting in crowded waiting rooms, either! That’s why they’ve taken steps like having patients wait in their cars, seeing fewer patients at a given time and removed waiting room furniture.
  • “I’m not in any pain, so I don’t need to see the dentist.” People who wait until they’re in pain to go to the dentist likely have issues such as severe cavities or infected root canals that could have been avoided if they’d gone in for regular cleanings and exams. Taking advantage of the diagnostic and preventive care offered with Delta Dental plans can help catch oral health issues before they become serious, and that helps to keep pain and costs down.
  • “My teeth look fine, so I don’t need to see the dentist.” It’s possible to develop oral health issues that aren’t obvious when looking in the bathroom mirror. Going to a dentist to detect issues like gum disease is important. Additionally, there are serious health issues that can have oral symptoms, such as diabetes, heart disease and some forms of cancer. A visit to the dentist can help detect these issues as well.
  • “I’m too busy to spend time finding a dentist or making it into the office.” It can be hard to find time away from work or school to make it to the dentist. Fortunately, teledentistry has made it easier than ever before to connect with oral health professionals from the comfort of your home or office. Additionally, Delta Dental will soon offer tools that can connect members with a Delta Dental PPO™ dentist for a dental diagnostic report or video consultation.

Don’t be afraid to go to the dentist

When it comes to the dentist’s office, your employees can rest easy knowing that they can stay safe and healthy when it’s time for a visit. That’s sure to be a smile on their face.

Making music and smiles: Spotlight on a rockin’ dental consultant

4‑minute read

So, your carrier tells you it has dental consultants on staff. You first thought may be “that sounds great!”, but you’re also probably left wondering what that actually means. We think there’s no better way to show you than by introducing you to one of our dental consultants, Dr. Leigh Westee. She also happens to be an incredibly interesting human.

Dr. Leigh Westee

Whether you met Dr. Westee during her days as a practicing dentist or you run into her now as a dental consultant, a couple of things remain the same. She’s still passionate about helping patients receive exceptional dental care, and she still spends her free time playing bass in a hard rock band.

How long have you been with Delta Dental? What did you do previously?

It will be seven years this April — and I’ve been a dental consultant the whole time. Before working here, I practiced dentistry for 21 years. While I worked in some large practices, I also did mobile dentistry for a while. I would go into nursing homes and set up right in the beauty salon.  I felt incredibly useful — both in providing care and good company.

It sounds like you really liked practicing. What made you become a dental consultant?

I was just ready for a change, and so were my joints! I taught a bit at some dental hygiene schools and really liked it, so I wanted another position where I could apply all the knowledge I’d gained in the dental chair, but still help patients. This position ended up being the perfect fit.

So what exactly is it that you do?

Mostly I review complex claims for Delta Dental PPO™ — like numerous visits for the same procedure. I compare claims to x‑rays and other medical data, then apply the plan’s policies. I always remember there are people on the other end, so it’s also really important we take the enrollee and provider perspectives into account.

I also evaluate claims if a dentist or enrollee sends in a dispute or grievance. This is where you’ve really got to be a detective. For example, a new crown could be denied because it doesn’t meet a plan’s frequency limitations, but there are situations where we might override that. We may allow a new crown if the current crown broke and a different dentist had to provide a new one. That’s when I would look at all the info that went with the dispute, like x‑rays and charts, and make an informed decision.

Any advice for groups to take back to their enrollees?

Receive routine preventive care. Going to the dentist every six months can greatly reduce the chances of running into most of the claims issues I’m reviewing. You wouldn’t neglect your oil change for five years, so why do the same with your body? Keep your mouth maintained and you can help avoid expensive visits in the future.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?

Making decisions on claims is not something we take lightly, so there are definitely times where I can’t make a decision on my own. That’s when I rely on my colleagues to share their expertise — two other dental consultants who work on PPO claims sit right next to me. There are also separate consultants who work on DeltaCare® USA claims and an orthodontist for ortho claims.

Speaking of expertise: How do you keep your skills sharp?

Even though we’re not practicing, we still have to maintain a dentist license. I take about 20 credits of continuing education courses every year. Plus, the whole team of dental consultants meets every month to learn about new topics and share insights.

Wow, you guys certainly stay busy! How do you relax outside of work?

I play bass in two hard rock bands. I taught myself how to play by ear — I actually can’t read music. I had to practice for hours every day for months until it started to click, and I still have to practice a lot. Dentists do like to keep their hands busy!

The first band I joined was an all-female KISS Tribute Band. Now I’m in a Cheap Trick tribute band called Dream Police and an ’80s hard rock cover band called Iron Mullet. We get really into the costumes and makeup too. We’ve been hired out for rock events just to make appearances in costume.

That’s so cool. Have you ever met any of your rock idols?

I made it a goal to meet my five favorite bass players. It took me about 15 years, but I did it, and even had their signatures tattooed on me. Oh, and I met Alice Cooper.

I’m sure those are great stories … you’ll have to share with me some day. One last question. If you could remix one of your favorite songs like the singing dentist, what would it be? Can you give us a line?

I’d go with a KISS song. How about “I want to brush and floss all night”?


Thanks for rockin’ out with Dr. Westee! Stay tuned for our second dental consultant spotlight later this month, which will highlight dental phobias and ways to ease enrollees’ fears. And don’t forget to subscribe to Word of Mouth, our newsletter for benefits decision makers, administrators or HR professionals.

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