Dental Students as Researchers
If you stopped to talk with any of the scores of students who packed the fourteenth and fifteenth floors of the School of Dental Medicine during Bates-Andrews Day, the school’s annual research fair, you could have learned about topics as diverse as HPV vaccines, sleep apnea appliances, drugs to treat dry mouth, and elderly patients who suffer from depression. It would soon become clear that oral health covers far more than your everyday brushing and flossing.
“We’re not just fixing teeth, but preserving overall health,” said Trish Dang, D20, who with Sang Joon Lee, D19, examined vaccination rates for human papillomavirus (HPV) among young Hispanics. HPV infection is related to the development of a type of oral cancer, and raising awareness of the vaccine is something dentists should be thinking about, Dang said.
Public health projects like Dang and Lee’s joined clinical studies, dental materials research, basic science, and educational research. Most of the participating students had received research fellowships that allowed them to work with faculty mentors on their chosen subjects; many of them will present their work in the coming months at the American Association for Dental Research and American Dental Education Association annual sessions.
“It’s a nice opportunity to practice presenting their posters before they do it in front of a national audience,” said Eileen Doherty, director of predoctoral student research. “There’s always so much enthusiasm. The students enjoy talking to the faculty about their work, which they’ve all spent so much time on.”
Named for two early dental school alumni and professors, George Bates, D1889, and Robert Andrews, D1875, Bates-Andrews Day has roots stretching back to 1935. Even as recently as twenty years ago, when Doherty came to the dental school, Bates Day was a fairly modest affair that filled a couple of small seventh-floor classrooms.
Over the past decades it has grown considerably, now occupying most of the spaces on the school’s uppermost floors, with ninety-five students presenting seventy-eight posters, and fifty faculty judges, Doherty said.
Some students hope the results of their projects can affect the Tufts dental experience while they’re still in school. For example, Anne-Marie Vu, D19, analyzed the four-year seminar course known as Basic Science/Clinical Science Spiral Seminar Series (BaSiCSsss), which teams students from all four classes, with an eye toward how fourth-year students can be effective leaders for their groups.
Jessaca York, D19, examined the prevalence of mental illness and the use of psychotropic medications by elderly patients who received treatment at the dental school clinics. As the U.S. population ages, dentists need to be aware of the often-overlooked medical conditions their older patients may face, York said—and the data also point out the need for more education for dental students about geriatric issues, she said.
The popularity of Bates-Andrews Day illustrates the increasingly important role that research plays in the education of Tufts dental students. Yannis Koroneos, D20, was working at a periodontics lab at the Forsyth Institute, a dental and craniofacial research center in Cambridge, when he decided to apply to dental school—and the chance to conduct research as a predoctoral student is what attracted him to Tufts.
His Bates-Andrews project compared the incidence of complications in smokers and diabetics who received dental implants to more healthy recipients. Information like that, he said, can be invaluable to a practitioner trying to diagnose and treat an implant patient. “It’s really important to be able to bring the clinic and bench work together,” he said.
Helene Ragovin can be reached at Helene.email@example.com.