Serving the community is the foundation of Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine’s mission. From the Healthy Smiles Sealant Program with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District to regular patient care for as many as 70,000 patients annually at the Dental Clinic on Chester Avenue, the school’s students, faculty and staff are committed to directly supporting the people of Cleveland.
This mission of people-focused care was put into action again this month as Assistant Professor Suparna Mahalaha brought the school’s work to a new location: the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland. The center’s programs director, Gulnar Feerasta, invited Mahalaha to perform oral cancer screenings, offer tobacco cessation counseling, and provide oral health education to individuals attending a pop-up health clinic event at the center.
“We have many smokers who come to the center, and it had never occurred to me to provide oral cancer screenings,” said Feerasta, who met Mahalaha through the Cleveland Leadership Center’s Bridge Builders cohort. “When Suparna mentioned this, I realized that it was a huge need for our community.”
In addition to the oral health education and referrals Mahalaha provided, she also brought other essential components: a trauma-informed expression of her oral health knowledge and a deep desire to provide care in a safe, understanding way.
“There is a lot of trauma in the LGBTQ community, specifically medical trauma,” explained Feerasta, noting how people who have had bad experiences with doctors not understanding their histories or identities can be traumatized by that lack of understanding and carelessness. “A lot of the LGBTQ community don’t go to doctors or dentists out of fear.”
When it came to Mahalaha’s approach, Feerasta had high praise: “She was so gentle and calm, making sure to let each individual know exactly what she was doing. She would say, ‘I’m going to go near your mouth now,’ which is so important to do when you are treating folks with histories of trauma.”
Mahalaha made such an impact that the Community Dentistry Department will be involved in an annual—and much larger—pop-up clinic hosted by the LGBT Community Center on June 17. She credits Feerasta for spearheading such important events.
“Gulnar is an inspiring and passionate advocate for the LGBTQ community,” said Mahalaha. “In my discussions with her, it became apparent that we needed to do more as public health dentists to promote oral health education and outreach in this community.”
Interested in connecting with the dental school to discuss opportunities to expand care for the Cleveland community? Email Suparna Mahalaha (firstname.lastname@example.org) in the Department of Community Dentistry.
Individuals in need of oral health care should call the appointment line at 216.368.3200 and a member of the clinic team will assist with scheduling needs.