(NEW YORK) — Imagine there’s no oral cancer. It isn’t hard to do. You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.
Those rewritten John Lennon lyrics may be Tony Gedge’s new motto.
Gedge has made it his life’s work to reduce the rates of oral cancer in his native Britain. And now, Gedge has enlisted the former Beatle to help inspire Brits to walk into the dentist and receive a simple, 10-minute-long test for oral cancer.
Specifically, Gedge has turned to one of John Lennon’s molars.
Encased in a smart silver pendant, Lennon’s tooth is going on tour. Walk into your dentist’s office, try on the necklace with the tooth, and get a free cancer screening.
“The biggest group at risk for oral cancer are males, 55-59,” Gedge told ABC News. “They were around when the Beatles were doing their thing. So to appeal to the 55-plus boomer market, to get them into the practice with something they know – the Beatles – was far easier than getting them in by spouting a bunch of statistics.”
In 2010 in Britain, nearly 2,000 people died from oral cancer. In the U.S., that number was 7,850, with more than 40,000 new cases. If the cancer is caught early, most people will survive. (Click here for the National Cancer Institute’s guide to preventing Oral Cancer.)
For Gedge, those statistics are personal. Gedge lost his father to mouth cancer, and his mother now feeds through a tube because she too had oral cancer.
“Since that happened, I’ve been working with dentists to help them promote dentistry to make it more interesting to the general public,” he says.
In the mid 1960s, Lennon gave his tooth to his housekeeper, Dot Jarlett, while she worked at his home southwest of London. Her family kept it until last year, when Canadian dentist Michael Zuk bought it in an auction for more than $31,000.
Zuk then created three necklaces containing fragments of tooth and sent one to Gedge, who runs a charity called Dental Mavericks.
In the next few weeks the necklace will visit 16 dental practices. Dentists will check anyone who comes in to see the tooth for oral cancer – an easy and painless detection that can be done with the help of a special light.
Castlepark Dental Centre in Hull in northeast England, one of the first practices taking part, has already screened about 100 people, Gillian Fisher, the practice manager, told ABC News.
“Fifty years ago this week the Beatles were playing at the local cinema,” Fisher said. “The patients were coming in and talking about what they were wearing, what they were playing. It was a total trip down memory lane for them. Through the curiosity we’re hoping to raise awareness of mouth cancer.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio