Since 1998, RSDM’s health fair has screened thousands of patients for signs of oral cancer and raised awareness of the disease.
Organizers of the event, held earlier this month, celebrated its 20th anniversary by screening nearly 250 residents of Integrity House, one of the state’s largest non-profit provider for treatment of substance abuse disorders.
For many who come to the free screening, it’s their only recent contact with an oral healthcare providers and can alert them to signs of decay and other dental problems, said Dr. Mahnaz Fatahzadeh, director of RSDM’s pre- and postdoctoral oral medicine training and the Oral Mucosal Diseases Clinic.
Once a low-key event, the health fair has grown but its goal remains the same: treating underserved patients with a high risk for oral cancer and other chronic diseases.
“Rutgers School of Dental Medicine has been at the forefront of the fight against oral cancer and a trail blazer in prevention at many fronts,’’ said Fatahzedeh.
Students at RSDM receive extensive training on signs, symptoms and risk factors for the disease. As dentists, they can detect oral mucosal abnormalities, which can be evidence of pre-cancer symptoms, according to Fatahzadeh. The key to improving survival is early detection, she said. More than 30,000 Americans are diagnosed annually with oral cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Many are unaware of the risk factors, such as smoking and heavy drinking.
Faculty, staff and students participated in the day-long event, which also included a pink van parked outside the school that gave free mammographies, in addition to other health screenings and information. For many years, the health fair has been a collaboration with the Essex Passaic Wellness Coalition, New Jersey Medical School and University Hospital.
Erik Colon, a patient who was screened, was happy with his exam, which revealed no oral health problems — perhaps because he regularly sees a dentist and takes care of his teeth, he said.
“It was very well-run and professional, and the people were nice. Any questions you had, they answered,’’ he said.