Dental group's event to include free oral cancer screenings for Mohegan Sun employees

Mohegan Sun’s Earth Expo & Convention Center is set to host more than 3,000 dentists, dental students and other dental professionals next week during the Academy of General Dentistry’s Annual Scientific Session, a three-day event featuring hands-on benefits for attendees and casino employees and a keynote speaker suddenly embroiled in controversy.

Dentists and supervised dental students, faculty and residents from the UConn School of Dental Medicine will provide free oral cancer screenings next Friday to Mohegan Sun employees and those attending the conference.

On Thursday, Henry Lee, the famed criminologist who has consulted on thousands of cases, including the O.J. Simpson trial and the JonBenet Ramsey murder investigation, is scheduled to deliver an opening address on forensic dentistry. Recently, Lee has had to defend his work in some Connecticut cases that turned on his blood-evidence testimony. In the latest instance, a man imprisoned since 1986 in the murder of a Darien man, argued in a court filing this week that he should be freed because results of blood testing done decades after the murder contradicted Lee’s earlier testimony.

Lee's work in a 1989 case in Connecticut was called into question last month when the state Supreme Court overturned the convictions of two men accused of murdering a New Milford man in 1985. The convictions were partially based on the testimony of Lee, who told jurors he had tested a spot on a towel in the bathroom of the victim's home and found it was "consistent with blood." DNA testing decades later determined there was no blood on the towel and that it had never been tested for blood, The Hartford Courant reported.

In another case from the 1980s, a man convicted of murder was released from prison in 2017 based on evidence that Lee had falsely testified about the source of blood found on a knife.

At a news conference Thursday in West Haven, Lee, who served for years as the head of the state police crime lab, said his testimony in all the cases was truthful and accurate.

A spokeswoman for the Chicago-based dental association that will convene at Mohegan Sun said the association was “aware of the controversy with Dr. Lee and the petition to review and overturn the Darien murder case.”

“Dr. Lee is a very accomplished forensic scientist and will be speaking to our attendees on the topic of forensic dentistry,” the spokeswoman, Nakea Barksdale, wrote Thursday in an email. “I’ve spoken with the team that manages the registrations to the event and also the registrations to the course that Dr. Lee will lead later that day and so far there has not been any withdrawals from his course.”

Barksdale said Friday that registrations for Lee's keynote talk had increased since Thursday.

Lee also is scheduled to lead a lecture titled “New Technology in Human Identification.”

Messages left Friday for Lee’s assistant at the Henry C. Lee Institute of Forensic Science at the University of New Haven were not returned. While the institute is located on the college’s West Haven campus, they are separate entities.

Oral cancer awareness

The Academy of General Dentistry Foundation and Mohegan Sun are collaborating to provide the free oral cancer screenings, part of the foundation’s ongoing effort to increase awareness of oral cancer, now the sixth-most prevalent form of cancer worldwide, according to the American Cancer Society. More than 50,000 U.S. residents are expected to be diagnosed with the disease in 2019.

Screenings, by appointment, will take place from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. next Friday.

“Mohegan Sun is very appreciative of the Academy of General Dentistry extending the medical screenings to the Mohegan Sun team and we will continue to spread the word as the conference approaches,” a casino spokesman said.

During a screening — a painless examination that takes no more than five minutes — a dentist looks for “lumps and bumps” in tissue inside the mouth and any discolorations or raised or calloused areas on the lips, head and neck and behind the ears in areas where lymph nodes are located, said Dr. Kay Jordan, a New Orleans dentist and a member of the foundation's board of directors.

Oral cancer’s causes include smoking, excessive consumption of alcohol and exposure to the sun, she said. Increasingly, the disease has been linked to sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, or HPV. 

Jordan said early detection of oral cancer is important and that in many cases a dentist is the first health-care provider with an opportunity to diagnose it.

“We’ll be able to handle as many as can come,” Jordan said of the expected turnout for screenings.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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