Gildas Club, Delta Dental of Tennessee Partner to Raise Awareness of Oral Cancer

NASHVILLE, Tenn.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Gilda’s Club Middle Tennessee, a Nashville-based non-profit dedicated to providing support, education, and hope to anyone impacted by cancer, and Delta Dental of Tennessee (Delta Dental), the state’s largest independent dental benefits carrier, today launched a new partnership to support individuals living with oral cancers and raise awareness of the disease and the importance of early detection.

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. On average, three Tennesseans are diagnosed with oral cancers every day, and an estimated 54,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancers this year. Steve Travis was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in 2012, and underwent surgery, chemo, radiation, and recovery into 2013. But he didn’t consider himself to be a “support group kind of person” until 2014, when he reached out and got involved with the Gilda’s Club Head and Neck Cancer Support Group.

“I knew I just couldn’t do it on my own anymore… I had great support in my personal life, but no one else had been through exactly what I was going through,” said Travis. “At Gilda’s, there was a whole room full of people – smiling people – and they all understood. Sitting in that group environment – listening and sharing – it didn’t take me long to realize that it was where I needed to be.”

Travis is cancer free today and continues to be closely monitored by his health team, including his dentist, Dr. Daron Clark. “When you are diagnosed with cancer, you learn how to keep a lot of appointments, and I was – and continue to be – so lucky to receive terrific care. My dentist was an active part of my health team following treatment and he continues to approach my exams with the previous cancer in mind,” he added.

Dentists play a critical role as the first line of defense in screening for oral cancers. Maintaining regular dental visits allows dentists to check patients for common signs of oral cancers, including lesions or sores that do not go away and red, white, or speckled patches inside the mouth. Dentists often refer patients with concerning signs or symptoms to an oral surgeon or other specialist for a biopsy and formal diagnosis.

“Don’t wait until you feel bad to see a doctor, or until you have a toothache to see a dentist. Catching any kind of health problem early on is critical, and when it comes to cancer, early detection can be life-saving,” said Harriet Schiftan, MSW, MAJCS, president and CEO of Gilda’s Club Middle Tennessee. “This last year has been particularly challenging for our community: many are immunocompromised, isolated, and dealing with an extra layer of financial stress that comes with a cancer diagnosis. Gilda’s Club and cancer support at no cost is made possible by generous partners like Delta Dental and we are so grateful for this collaboration. Together, we’re ensuring no one has to face cancer alone.”

Oral cancers are often discovered late, and as a result the mortality rate is high, with an overall five-year survival rate of 66%. The timing of a diagnosis can be a matter of life and death: the survival rate for oral cancers diagnosed at an early stage is 85%, but less than one-third of cases are caught at this point. The survival rate for oral cancers that have spread regionally drops to 67%, and for cancers that have spread throughout the body, it falls to 40%. This is especially worrisome in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led many people to delay routine preventive care and screenings; new cancer diagnoses in the U.S. dropped 50% in 2020, the director of the National Cancer Institute recently noted, but not because there was less cancer – it was just diagnosed less often.

While anyone can develop oral cancer, certain individuals are at higher risk and should be even more vigilant about regular screenings. According to the American Cancer Society, significant risk factors for oral cancers include gender (oral cancers are more than twice as common in men than women), age (the average age of diagnosis is 63, although 1 in 5 cases occur in individuals younger than 55), tobacco and/or alcohol use, and human papillomavirus (HPV) infections, which have been linked to 70 percent of oropharyngeal (back of the throat) cancers.

“We are proud to support Gilda’s Club Middle Tennessee and the invaluable work they do to serve so many people in our community who have been impacted by cancer,” said Dr. Phil Wenk, CEO and president of Delta Dental of Tennessee. “Preventive screenings and care are essential to maintaining good health, and I encourage anyone who skipped checking in with their doctor or dentist last year to do so this summer.”

Gilda’s Club Middle Tennessee membership, including access to more than 100 monthly events, activities, and programs, is always free of charge. Gilda’s Club offers a variety of diagnosis-specific support groups, including the Head and Neck Cancers Group, as well as support groups specific to age and role, including groups for teens and young adults with cancer, and for friends, family, and other caregivers. Members may also participate in a variety of ongoing classes and workshops that cover subjects including nutrition and cooking, movement and meditation, the arts.

To learn more about Gilda’s Club Middle Tennessee and its free cancer support program, please visit

To learn more about Delta Dental of Tennessee, please visit

About Gilda’s Club Middle Tennessee (formerly Gilda’s Club Nashville)

Gilda’s Club Middle Tennessee, an affiliate of the Cancer Support Community, is dedicated to providing support, education and hope to all people impacted by cancer, including family members and friends of those diagnosed. Free of charge to everyone, Gilda’s Club Middle Tennessee’s evidence-based programming for adults, teens, children, and families includes support groups, healthy lifestyle workshops, mind-body classes, social activities, educational lectures, and community resource information. Offering approximately 70 professionally-led support and networking groups, and more than 80 educational workshops and lectures each month – with both in-person and virtual options – Gilda’s Club Middle Tennessee is able to make a tangible difference in the lives of those impacted by cancer. We build community, so no one has to face cancer alone.

About Cancer Support Community

As the largest professionally-led nonprofit network of cancer support worldwide, the Cancer Support Community (CSC), including its Gilda’s Club affiliates, is dedicated to ensuring that all people impacted by cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action and sustained by community. CSC achieves its mission through three areas: direct service delivery, research, and advocacy. The organization includes an international network of affiliates that offer the highest quality social and emotional support for people impacted by cancer, as well as a community of support available online and over the phone. The Research and Training Institute conducts cutting-edge psychosocial, behavioral and survivorship research. CSC furthers its focus on patient advocacy through its Cancer Policy Institute, informing public policy in Washington, D.C. and across the nation. For more information, please call the toll-free Cancer Support Helpline at 888-793-9355 or visit

About Delta Dental of Tennessee

Delta Dental of Tennessee is the state’s largest independent dental benefits carrier with more than 1.2 million lives covered. As part of the Delta Dental Plans Association, Delta Dental of Tennessee members have access to the largest dental network in the nation with more than 154,000 providers serving more than 332,000 locations. With the simple mission of ensuring healthy smiles, Delta Dental of Tennessee works hard to help members of the communities it serves. Along with its corporate foundation, Smile180, Delta Dental of Tennessee donated more than $7 million in funding and in-kind services to over 140 organizations in 2019, and employees shared 2,182 volunteer hours in the community.


Ann Waller Curtis