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Delta Dental awards $1.1 million grant to Marshfield Clinic

Amita Acharya, Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation with Dennis Petersen, Delta Detal Executive Vice President

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​One of the most substantial donations ever made to Marshfield Clinic will support a number of dental health research project​s.

Delta Dental of Wisconsin has committed $1.1 million over two years to establish the Delta Dental Oral and Systemic Research Initiative at Marshfield Clinic Research Institute (MCRI). Delta Dental is giving $500,000 toward dental informatics research, $500,000 toward the oral and systemic ​health research project, and $100,000 toward clinician-initiated dental and craniofacial (skull) research.

“Marshfield Clinic Research Institute’s commitment to oral-health research is impressive, and we are pleased to be able to partner with them in creating this research initiative,” said Dennis Peterson, Delta Dental’s executive vice president.

"This is one of the largest gifts given to Marshfield Clinic and it is extremely meaningful to the research happening here," said Teri Wilczek, chief development officer of Marshfield Clinic. "Delta Dental of Wisconsin is committed to changing the way dental care is delivered. They are a remarkable company with whom we share a similar mission, and we are very pleased with the partnership we have created."

The dental-informatics research combines computer-based research, biological science and medical-dental integration, all brought down to an individual level. The research will create a dental-health information exchange, personal patient porta​​ls that incorporate medical as well as dental information, and electronic dental-health records.

This research builds on an earlier Delta Dental-funded project that integrates medical records and dental records in a single electronic health record that provides a detailed picture of an individual’s whole-body health.

“I’m super-excited,” admitted Amit Acharya, B.D.S., M.S., Ph.D., a dental informatics scientist at MCRI. “This grant will enable us to add investigators to build new tools and methodologies, as well as unique ways of mining the data.” Dr. Acharya will work closely with Dr. Fred Eichmiller, Delta Dental’s vice president and science officer.

Oral-and-systemic-health research centers on the connection between a healthy mouth and healthy body. In particular, it focuses on expanding the links between oral health and diabetes, heart disease, and preterm births. The dental and craniofacial research uses the latest molecular and genetic tools to explore health and diseases in that region of the body.

“Understanding and effectively managing the link between oral health and overall health holds promise for helping control health care costs,” Dr. Eichmiller said. “Marshfield Clinic has a tremendous database going back generations, with genetic data to go along with it. It’s unique. Nobody else has that.

“We know there are strong associations between these diseases, but we don’t yet know what the real cause and effect is. We’re hoping that this science will help fill in these knowledge gaps so we can identify diseases earlier, when they are most treatable.” Dr. Eichmiller added that it is now common for dentists to get referrals from physicians, and vice versa. That didn’t happen much in years past.

Peterson said Delta Dental’s contribution fits its status as the largest dental benefits provider in Wisconsin, covering more than 1.4 million employees and family members.

“Our customers have entrusted us to spend their dollars in the most effective way we can to improve the oral health of their employees,” he said. “We feel a strong obligation to be good stewards and use this money appropriately.”

While the grants announced this year cover a two-year period, both parties acknowledge that research is never-ending and constantly evolving.

“This is not like you do one project and you’re done,” Peterson said. “We will of course do an analysis at the conclusion of this phase of research, but I think this is a relationship that we anticipate will continue.”

About Delta Dental of Wisconsin:

Delta Dental of Wisconsin is a not-for-profit dental service corporation offering benefit services, claims processing, and plan administration to employers throughout Wisconsin since 1962.

The company is headquartered in Stevens Point, with sales offices in Milwaukee and Madison, and provides benefits and services to more than 1.4 million subscribers and their family members. Delta Dental administers dental benefits for more Wisconsin companies than any other insurance carrier.

Delta Dental of Wisconsin partners with members of the dental profession to reach underserved populations. Each year, the company provides more than $2.5 million in financial support to oral health and local community efforts throughout Wisconsin.

As a member of the nationwide Delta Dental Plans Association, the company is able to offer employees of Wisconsin-based companies the same dental benefits wherever they are located in the United States. The Delta Dental Plans Association is the largest dental-benefits system in the nation, with member companies providing benefits to more than 51 million people in 93,600 employer groups across the United States.

Contact the Marshfield Clinic Health System Foundation for more information: