Massey Cancer Center initiative on oral health is in effect at Clinic

January 9, 2023

The Northern Neck Middlesex Free Health Clinic (NNMFHC) recognizes that oral health significantly impacts the overall health and outcomes of its patients. To expand upon the services it provides, NNMFHC implemented an oral cancer screening program, funded in part by a VCU Massey Cancer Center 2022 seed grant.

“This grant has increased the clinic’s ability to provide comprehensive services to patients who previously were not utilizing the Dental Clinic,” explained Anne Bartron, policy consultant for NNMFHC. “It has encouraged patients to seek care at the Dental Clinic and provided valuable education and treatment services to patients to improve their health and wellness.”

Medical patients receive an “Are You at Risk? packet containing information about oral cancer, risk factors, signs and symptoms and the screening process. Patients are then eligible for a free dental exam and x-rays and learn more about Virginia Medicaid dental benefits.

Awarded as part of Massey’s Community Grant Initiative, the $5,000 that NNMFHC received covered the cost of packet materials and a portion of staff salaries for the registered nurse (RN) and dental coordinator most closely involved with the oral cancer screening program. Dental and dental hygiene students from the VCU School of Dentistry who are on rotation at the clinic provide the screenings, along with the NNMFHC staff dentist.

As of Nov. 22, 2022, NNMFHC distributed packets to more than 550 medical patients. Approximately 70 of those patients have now had an oral cancer screening, with many more appointments scheduled. At the screenings, individuals learn about their need for preventive and restorative dental treatment and have the opportunity to have their oral health needs addressed.

“It is likely that this information has been shared with family members and others, increasing the impact of the educational component of this project,” said Bartron. “In addition, NNMFHC staff have had the opportunity to participate in a project that integrates services and have also learned about oral cancer risk.”

NNMFHC provides medical, dental and pharmacy services to uninsured and underinsured individuals, primarily adults living in Lancaster, Northumberland, Westmoreland, Richmond and Middlesex counties, all part of Massey’s catchment area. To be eligible for medical services, patients must have incomes at or below 250% of the federal poverty limit.

“The Massey seed grant can provide funding for a concept that organizations or groups may have previously been unable to implement,” Bartron shared. “The application process is straightforward, the community benefit is measurable, and connecting people and resources is vital to ensuring that communities can achieve improved health.”

Launched in Dec. 2021, Massey’s Community Grant Initiative helps community partners expand programs focused on the promotion of health, health equity, person-centered care across the cancer continuum (from prevention through survivorship) and reducing suffering from cancer.

Six other organizations also received 2022 seed grants across Massey’s catchment area:

  • World U.P. Foundation (Richmond)
  • Vance Street Missionary Baptist Church (Danville)
  • Saving Pennies 4 A Cure / Trials of Color (Petersburg)
  • Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation (Richmond)
  • Fifth Baptist Church (Richmond)
  • Ebenezer Baptist Church (Richmond)

“NNMFHC is pleased to participate in this initiative and has received positive support and feedback from Massey staff,” said Bartron. “We have also had a great deal of positive feedback from patients about the oral cancer screening program and the care provided by the Dental Clinic students and staff.”

Written by: Amy Lacey, Massey Cancer Center