Global Health Nexus, Millennium Issue

An Amazing Week in the Life of NYU College of Dentistry

During the week of June 1-5, 1999, NYU Dentistry welcomed a cabinet secretary as graduation speaker, provided three days of free oral cancer screenings to the public, garnered major media coverage, and received gubernatorial and mayoral proclamations in recognition of extraordinary community service. Beginning June 1, when U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala delivered the graduation address at the College's graduation ceremony at Carnegie Hall, NYU Dentistry was in the news and making news for the entire week.

Speaking to an audience of nearly 3,000 graduates, faculty, and friends, Secretary Shalala applauded NYU Dentistry for providing leadership in dental education and community care, praising in particular a three-day, free oral cancer screening program that was to begin the next day. "The screenings should serve as a long overdue wake-up call about the dangers of oral cancer," she said, adding, "Lives will be saved because of your extraordinary effort."

The audience also got a preview of the Surgeon General's Report on Oral Health, which is expected to be released early next year. According to Secretary Shalala, "This will be a landmark report on what we know and what we must learn and do to prevent oral disease and promote good oral health. The report will identify barriers to good oral health. It will look at emerging diagnostic technologies to keep you on the cutting edge. The report will address questions about new therapeutics -- and raise awareness about barriers low-income people face in getting access to dental care."

"Most important," she added, "the report is expected to make recommendations about how all Americans in the 21st century can live healthier lives through preventive dental care."

That same day, advertisements announcing free oral cancer screenings at eight sites in New York and New Jersey appeared in the New York Times, the New York Daily News, Newsday, the Newark Star-Ledger, and El Diario La Prensa.

The project represented the first time that the region's four dental schools had collaborated on a specific program to promote the public good. Joining forces with NYU Dentistry were the Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery, the SUNY Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine, and the UMDNJ New Jersey Dental School. The Office of Oral Health, Programs, and Policy for New York City, part of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, and WABC-TV rounded out the group, known as the Consortium for the Prevention and Early Detection of Oral Cancer.

Wednesday, June 3, was highlighted by a proclamation ceremony in which Dr. Luis R. Marcos, president of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, presented Dean Alfano with a proclamation by New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani declaring June 1-5 as Oral Cancer Awareness Week in New York City. A similar proclamation from New York State Governor George Pataki followed a few days later.

On Thursday, June 4, WABC-TV meteorologist Bill Evans arrived at NYU Dentistry at 5:30 a.m. to begin broadcasting live from the College for Good Morning, America. Scores of NYU Dentistry students, faculty, and staff were on hand to welcome him and help urge New Yorkers and New Jerseyans to take advantage of the free oral cancer screenings.

For several weeks in advance of the screening and continuing throughout the screening week, WABC-TV aired public-service announcements promoting the event. Additional media coverage came from interviews with Dean Alfano and other consortium members on WINS News Radio, Bloomberg News Radio, and several local cable TV channels.

By Friday, over 1,000 people had taken part in the free oral cancer screenings, and dozens of suspicious lesions had been identified and were being followed up. The Consortium for the Prevention and Early Detection of Oral Cancer is now planning the next phase of its campaign to inform and educate the public about the importance of early detection of oral cancer. NYU Dentistry is proud to have spearheaded this community of distinguished institutions and proud of the work we are doing collectively to raise public awareness of oral cancer as a silent killer.

Below is a chronology of events leading up to, during, and following the week of June 1-5, 1999.

January 1999
Dean Alfano sends National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) cancer detection posters to nearly 10,000 NYU Dentistry alumni. Consortium for the Prevention and Early Detection of Oral Cancer is formed.

April 1999
NYU Omega Chapter of Omicron Kappa Upsilon (OKU) sponsors hands-on training in oral cancer detection for metro area dentists. The program is free to NYU alumni. Oral cancer Web site ( is developed. Editorials promoting oral cancer exams appear in the New York State Dental Journal and the Bulletin of the Queens County Dental Society.

May 1999
Oral cancer hotline is developed. Video news release featuring Dean Alfano and a patient receiving a proper oral cancer exam is distributed to TV stations in the New York-New Jersey region.

June 1999
Secretary Shalala endorses oral cancer screenings at NYU Dentistry graduation ceremony.

Ads appear in major metro-area newspapers.

Free oral cancer screenings are conducted in the New York-New Jersey region.

Consortium members are interviewed on radio and TV.

Mayor Giuliani and Governor Pataki proclaim Oral Cancer Awareness Week in New York City and State, respectively. ADA News carries story on NYU Dentistry graduation ceremony, Secretary Shalala, and the free oral cancer screenings.

July 1999
Decision is made to continue the consortium with the chair passing from Dean Alfano to Dr. Arnold Rosenheck at UMDNJ.

September 1999
Dean Alfano is invited to describe the regional oral cancer screening initiative to the deans of the dental schools in both Texas and Massachusetts.