Grant Funds Dental Care for Cancer Patients

HNC Living Foundation renews support for care at UMKC School of Dentistry

The HNC Living Foundation renewed its support for the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry’s dental care program for head and neck cancer patients with a grant of $325,000 over two years.

The foundation, based in Overland Park, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing financial assistance for head and neck cancer patients to improve their treatment, recovery and quality of life. The foundation was formed in 2013 by Tom and Teresa Walsh after Teresa was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in her jawbone.  After experiencing the physical, financial, and emotional challenges of head and neck cancer firsthand and witnessing the difficulties experienced by other patients, the Walshes were inspired to form the HNC Living Foundation. In addition to providing grant support to UMKC, the HNC Living Foundation has collaborated with other local institutions including Cancer Action, Truman Medical Centers, Turning Point, and the University of Kansas Health System to help head and neck cancer patients live life fully, during and after cancer treatment.  Although starting locally, the foundation’s vision is to become a national resource of financial assistance for head and neck cancer patients.

The collaboration between the foundation and UMKC School of Dentistry began in late 2016 when Chris Uithoven, executive director, and Mary Walker, associate dean for research and graduate programs at the UMKC School of Dentistry, began discussions about how to improve access to dental care for head and neck cancer patients in the Kansas City area.

Walker’s background includes federally-funded research focused on understanding the mechanism of radiotherapy-induced dentition breakdown, so she had an expert’s familiarity with oral and dental complications associated with head and neck cancer radiotherapy treatment.  These complications are especially debilitating for patients’ quality of life, as traditional medical insurance typically does not cover pre-and post-cancer dental treatment.  For this reason, the foundation’s financial assistance to patients who would normally not be able to afford dental treatment is truly life-changing.

In January 2017, the foundation granted the UMKC School of Dentistry $225,900 to provide dental care for uninsured and underinsured head and neck cancer patients referred to the Advanced Education Clinic in the UMKC School of Dentistry from any regional medical center. The grant included coverage for dental care required prior to starting cancer therapy and follow-up ongoing dental care after cancer therapy. Expected outcomes of the partnership between UMKC and the HNC Living Foundation were the reduction in oral complications and decrease in cost of care and pain prevention. Additional outcomes resulted in improvements in quality of life and the likelihood that the patient would successfully complete planned cancer treatment.  The funds from the initial grant made it possible for 167 patients with head and neck cancer to receive dental care at the UMKC School of Dentistry between January 2017 and June 2018.

The new two-year $325,000 grant will benefit between 200 and 225 patients. The continued partnership between UMKC and the foundation is making it possible to provide both new and returning patients with essential dental care from well-trained clinicians.


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