GUMC, GULC Study Oral Health With Grant

Associate Dean of Community Health and Outreach at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center Dr. Lucile Adams-Campbell received a $1.2 million grant from the George E. Richmond Foundation in January to conduct research on oral health disparities in Washington, D.C.

The George E. Richmond Foundation is a Chicago-based nonprofit that seeks to promote and fund improvements to oral health. The project represents a collaborative effort between the Georgetown University Medical Center and the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown Law to encompass medical, legal and policy issues regarding oral health.

Adams-Campbell said that the longstanding issue of oral health disparities in the District has received little attention, especially in underserved populations.

“Oral health disparities have long been a problem. I think dental care has always been separated from the whole body, so to speak. You talk about your medical care, but then dental care has always been separate,” Adams-Campbell said. “Oral health just in general, people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.”

Adams-Campbell stressed the importance of oral healthcare, as issues of the mouth and teeth can spread to the rest of the body, affecting general health or aggravating pre-existing conditions.

“It is really pivotal to the systemic care,” Adams-Campbell said. “It’s not just about having dental cavities or anything of that sort … there are many diseases that stem from poor oral health, and most people don’t know about that.”

The two-year project will begin with focus groups from low-income, inner-city neighborhoods and public housing communities in the District. The team will survey 800 residents, ages 18 to 74, before creating a program to instruct the public on oral healthcare through outreach to public housing residences and churches.

Adams-Campbell emphasized the importance of the grant in allowing her team freedom to tailor the project to various communities’ needs.

“The goal is really to find out what the community knows, to assess the community and then figure out a strategy on how to go from there.” Adams-Campbell said. “Until you can learn what the community knows you can’t educate, promote, you can’t change bad behaviors and attitudes. You don’t know where to go, so we’re just starting at ground zero.”

GULC Legal Research and Writing professor Victoria Girard, who will direct the legal component of the program, stressed that many aspects of healthcare have legislative ramifications.

“[We are] focusing on more of the policy issues,” Girard said. “What we’ll be doing is first trying to identify what the barriers are. Do people not go when they’ve got some kind of oral healthcare problem because they are afraid that they can’t take time off from work? Do they need a lawyer to represent them to make sure that they can get the time off that they need?”

The medical-legal partnership initiated by the project will bring students from the university’s law and medical schools together for common coursework. Girard said that this educational foundation will blend with research and community-based projects.

“There’s three components, in my mind, from the Law Center’s perspective, in a medical-legal partnership. The first is the opportunity for inter-professional education,” Girard said. “[Second,] there are lots of research opportunities where law and policy intersect, and then the third area that I’m excited about is the social justice community engagement section of it.”

Girard expressed the hope that through this partnership, the project can address some of the root causes of oral health disparities in D.C.

“The beauty of the medical-legal partnership is that when you have the lawyers and the doctors working together the power to advocate on behalf of individuals and the population in general is so much stronger,” Girard said. “By having the opportunity to collaborate with the healthcare professionals we’ll be able to undertake some high impact policy advocacy projects and have a larger population impact on oral healthcare in the D.C. area.”

Lombardi Director Louis Weiner, who connected Adams-Campbell with Girard, lauded Adams-Campbell for initiating a community-focused project and extending her focus from cancer to oral health.

“We feel very fortunate that Lucile Adams-Campbell is a vital member of the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. … Dr. Adams-Campbell has long been one of Lombardi’s champions of addressing health disparities in the District of Columbia,” Weiner wrote in an email to The Hoya. “It is great to see her branching out from a pure cancer focus to one that involves additional dimensions of community health.”

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