Broker 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 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.

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 and brokers weather the financial impact of the pandemic.

At the same time, we’ve also prioritized our brokers’ financial stability. Commissions have remained intact, with no reductions to offset premium relief.

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.

Stories to smile about: Robert

Dental care with dignity — war veteran gets his smile and his life back.

What if a healthy smile could restore dignity, improve your quality of life and career outlook? For one very deserving man, that’s exactly what happened when he visited one of the UNLV Delta Dental Saturday Morning Community Clinics. 

After many years of suffering with teeth that caused physical and emotional pain, Vietnam veteran Robert Bennett finally received the care his smile needed at the Sgt. Clint Ferrin Memorial Clinic, one of four dental clinics that make up the UNLV Delta Dental Saturday Morning Community Clinics. 

This is what Robert had to say to UNLV about his experience at the clinic:

“It’s not only [that I was] happy with the care, it’s the professionalism that goes along with it — it’s the way you’re treated from the time you walk through the door, to the time that you get into the chair. And then the doctors that oversee what [the dental students] do and help, they come up constantly, and they introduce themselves and let you know what you’re going to be going through. 

[They] had to surgically remove almost every tooth in my mouth, or what was left of my teeth. [After receiving treatment and a full set of dentures,] I’m eating and smiling and communicating with people again. It changes your life. I mean it just gives you your dignity back. You are somebody again. And I get to apply again for a job. Look what they did!”

Robert Bennett, veteran of Vietnam War

Robert’s story is especially meaningful to us at Delta Dental. Last year, the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation granted $50,000 to support these clinics, which provide much needed dental care to underinsured and uninsured people throughout Southern Nevada.

Successes like this are the reason the Foundation exists — to improve health and enhance lives in the communities we serve. We’re so grateful for partners like the UNLV School of Dental Medicine, who give us opportunities like this one to make a real difference.


For more thought leadership from Delta Dental, subscribe to Insider Update, our newsletter for brokers, agents and consultants.

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

Stories to smile about: David

We believe creating healthy smiles extends beyond providing exceptional dental benefits. 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.


Want more benefits solutions, industry news or HR tips and tricks? Subscribe to Insider Update.

If you’re an employer, benefits administrator or HR professional, subscribe to Word of Mouth.

*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.

© 2022 Insider Update

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑