Photographs of Illinois Congressman Bobby Rush and the late entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. captured the attention of attendees at an oral cancer awareness event because few knew both men had oral cancer, a disease black men are more likely to die from than white men.

Learning about how bacteria in our mouths is linked to oral cancer risk and how better oral health starts with teeth brushing was the focus of the event hosted for a group of Black men by the University of Illinois Cancer Center’s Office of Community Engagement and Health Equity at the UI Health Mile Square Health Center (MSHC) in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side.

Cancer Center member Joel Schwartz, DMD, PhD, led the men through a mock science experiment using test tubes, water and colored beads to simulate how researchers collect saliva samples and then spin them in a centrifuge to learn more about the role of bacteria in oral cancer risk. Schwartz is part of the Cancer Center’s Translational Oncology research program.

Many of the men talked about how they were unaware of the link between oral health and cancer. They pledged to spread the word to family, friends and others in the community about the importance of good oral health. They also will encourage others to use the dental services available at the health center where Sodabeh Etminan, DMD, MPH, is Dental Director. MSHC offers adult and pediatric dental services and has a sliding fee payment option based on income for patients who are uninsured.

MSHC is a federally qualified health center with sites throughout Chicago and in the cities of Cicero, a suburb of Chicago, and Rockford in northern Illinois.

In the photos are others who helped to coordinate and facilitate the event, including Research Scientist Joseph Dufraine, PhD; Cancer Center member Hunter K. Holt, MD, part of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program;  Research Associate II Zoya Khan; Community Health Navigator Theresa Mobley; and Cancer Center Associate Director for Community Outreach and Engagement Yamile Molina, PhD. Senior Research Specialist Nasima Mannan, MPH, also helped remotely.

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