New Brunswick

Dentist offers free cancer screening for Oral Health Month

April is National Oral Health Month, and a dentist in Saint John is marking the occasion by offering free oral cancer screening all month long.

Dr. Bella Panjwani uses blue light device to check for pre-malignant lesions in mouth

Dr. Bella Panjwani says providing outreach like free oral screenings is a form of public service. (CBC)

April is National Oral Health Month, and a dentist in Saint John is marking the occasion by offering free oral cancer screening all month long.

Dr. Bella Panjwani says providing the screenings free of charge is one way she can give back to her community.

"That's my dedication towards community, if I can help people who cannot afford oral cancer screening," Panjwani said Thursday in an interview on Information Morning Saint John.

Just five days in, more than 20 patients have taken advantage of the free screening program at Panjwani's Millidgeville-based practice.

"We will be busy, and I'll be happy I can have them," she said. "It's a good idea to get it done when it's offered free."

The screening involves a few tests, starting with a patient's medical and dental history. Panjwani then performs a clinical exam, using a blue light device that looks for abnormalities in the oral tissue.

"The natural tissue … under a blue light glows green. If there is an abnormal change in the tissue, it will emit black, a little different, so it helps us visualize if there are any abnormal changes in the area," said Panjwani.

"You can't tell the abnormality but it gives an indication that something is happening … a patient may not feel it is a cancer, but you can pick up on it before it's happening. So it's a pre-malignant detection device."

Since taking over the dental practice on 541 Millidge Ave. two months ago, Panjwani has already sent two patients off for an oral tissue biopsy following one of her screens.

Oral cancer rate on rise

The rate of oral cancer is rising in Canada. The Canadian Cancer Society estimates 4,400 people will be diagnosed with the disease this year.

Traditionally 75 per cent are smokers and drinkers, however dentists are noting a number of rising incidents within the younger non-smoker, non-drinker group aged 30-35.

"It has changed and increased quite a bit," Panjwani said.

Researchers are now seeing an increase in the number of throat and mouth cancers linked to HPV, or the human papillomavirus.

"It is a sexually transferable disease, they have studied that if you reduce the number of sexual partners, it would definitely help," said Panjwani.

Oral cancer can often go undiagnosed because it is difficult to screen for dormant symptoms. In many cases, it comes with no pain, leading to delays in a diagnosis.

The chance for easier treatment increases when it's caught early.

With files from Information Morning

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