By Donna Domino, features editor

May 6, 2011 -- The Hulston Cancer Center in Springfield, MO, has a unique program that provides free dental care for cancer patients who need x-rays or extractions before they can begin treatment for their head and neck cancer.

Hulston Cancer Center
The Hulston Cancer Center in Springfield, MO, provides free dental care for cancer patients who need x-rays or extractions before they can begin treatment. Image courtesy of the Hulston Cancer Center.

Many patients with head and neck cancer require extensive dental care, ranging from full dental evaluations to x-rays and extractions, before they can begin chemotherapy and radiation treatment, explained Karen Hahn, RN, a nurse coordinator for the lung, head, and neck cancer programs at the center. But many cannot afford the dental care necessary to ensure that they have no oral infections before cancer treatments can begin.

"A dental evaluation is done and a panoramic film is taken to see the condition of the teeth, which is evaluated by a dentist," she told "Some need a little bit of work, maybe some cavities fixed. But others need extractions; some have only part of their teeth left and need to have the rest of them removed."

So far, 12 cancer patients have received dental care through the program, which began in 2008 following a $3,000 grant from the Ozarks Health Advocacy Foundation (OHAF). Three patients now are in the application process to get required dental care before they begin treatment. Their dental procedures will be paid for with a $4,000 OHAF grant that the center received in 2010.

The Hulston center has a volunteer dentist, Richard Martens, DMD, who has worked with radiologists so he has the experience to know what happens to patients' teeth while they are going through chemotherapy and radiation treatment, Hahn said. Oral surgeons from the Jordan Valley Community Health Center in Springfield also help with Medicaid patients.

“This program is a unique concept.”
— Ellen Hammock, Ozarks Health
     Advocacy Foundation

The Hulston center was included among the 30 groups per year that are awarded OHAF grants because of the unique nature of the cancer patients' needs, according to Ellen Hammock, a member of the OHAF board of directors.

"So many people are facing cancer treatment, and you don't normally think they may need dental care first. And if they have oral infections, it can really be exacerbated by chemotherapy and radiation treatment," she told "This program is a unique concept, and no other services are available for patients who don't have dental insurance or can't afford to have the work done. People don't necessarily understand the link between overall health and poor dental care."

Copyright © 2011

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