Sensitive Dental Care

Providing oral screenings at Cleveland’s LGBT Community Center

Image of Gulnar Feerasta and Suparna Argekar Mahalaha, DDS in a pop-up dental clinic Gulnar Feerasta and Suparna Argekar Mahalaha at a pop-up health clinic at the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland.

Gulnar Feerasta hadn’t seen a dentist for five years. The anxiety from earlier experiences was too great; she didn’t want to again feel judged, dismissed and misunderstood for being queer.

And she knew she wasn’t alone.

“There are people in my community who don’t go to doctors,” said Feerasta (SAS’16, MNO ’16), senior director of programs at the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland. “I hear about the hesitancy, fear and the medical trauma people have experienced with doctors who don’t understand their identities.”

So when Feerasta met Case Western Reserve’s Suparna Argekar Mahalaha, DDS, she invited her to participate in a pop-up health clinic to provide oral cancer screenings and oral health education, as well as tobacco cessation counseling for the many smokers who come to the center and see it as a safe space.

Mahalaha (CWR ’98; DEN ’01; GRS ’04, public health), an assistant professor of community dentistry at the School of Dental Medicine, came ready to serve—and with an ability to provide care in a respectful, understanding way.

“It was really game changing,” said Feerasta, who served as both host and a patient. “She was so gentle and nonjudgmental and had the trauma-informed [skill] to talk through the process.”

Mahalaha has participated in three pop-up clinics at the center, and more are planned.

“We need to do more as public health dentists to promote oral health education and outreach in the LGBTQ community,” Mahalaha said.