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17 July 2023

UNC to launch pilot program to provide dental care for veterans with blood cancer

Donation from Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to fund initiative


UNC Adams School of Dentistry recently received a sizeable donation from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to provide dental care for military veterans with blood cancers. According to a university news story, the funds will be used to launch a pilot program within ASOD’s Henson Special Care and Geriatric Clinic to help fill in care gaps often faced by service men and women when seeking oral health care.

Dr. Janet Guthmiller, DDS, and dean of the Adams School of Dentistry said in the story that while there is no way to repay our military veterans for their sacrifices and service, we have a wonderful opportunity to help bridge the oral health care gap and give something back to our service men and women.

Cancer treatments like chemotherapy, radiation and stem cell transplants can suppress the immune system, leading to oral health problems, such as mouth sores, bleeding gums, tooth decay and an increased chance for infection and sepsis. The donation and partnership with Leukemia and Lymphoma Society will allow veterans to receive the comprehensive care they need while dealing with a cancer diagnosis.

“A lot of patients can’t start treatment until they’ve received dental clearance, and the VA doesn’t cover dental benefits for the majority of veterans,” said Jessi Hill, U.S. Army veteran and administrative and clinical manager at the clinic. “Many veterans aren’t in a financial situation to cover the extra costs.”

The clinic will offer free services targeted to this patient group, including restoration work and extractions, as well as treating other conditions like dry mouth or lesions caused by aggressive cancer treatment. Offering follow-up care to veterans either currently undergoing cancer treatment or post treatment, is a way to help alleviate some of the barriers to care patients may face.

“Required dental procedures or clearances to begin life-saving therapy will no longer be considered another hurdle to jump, nor will the cost of such care delay initial or restorative treatment, regardless of dental benefit classifications,” Hill said.

In addition to the gift, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society has programs that will assist in covering the costs of transportation to and from appointments and other travel expenses, including hotel stays. As a veteran and former combat medic, Hill said it’s an honor for her to serve other military veterans, and she wants to see everyone get the comprehensive oral health care they need.

“That’s what I love most about the program,” Hill said. “So many veterans are diagnosed with cancer, many of whom were deployed overseas, and must fight tooth and nail for care. The fact that I can help and can give them support and education, that’s so special to me.”

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