Not the Same Old Grind

Play-Doh, soap, video, and abundant creativity are instrumental at Tufts’ first DentalFest, a competition that put an unconventional spin on dental education
Four dental students look at a replica tooth. Tufts recently held its first DentalFest, a competition that put an unconventional spin on dental education
The Incisors team members, from left, Jessica Valdovinos-Ayala, Keith Mielke, Joseph Mule, and Nikita Murarka, confer during the DentalFest competition. Photo: Helene Ragovin
September 23, 2019

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I’m not much of a sports fan, but when I heard that the Molar Bears were going to be facing off against Plaque Attack, I knew this was a match-up I didn’t want to miss.

True, neither of them was coming in with as many seasons behind them as some other teams, like Duck, Duck, Tooth. But when it came to sculpting a first molar from a block of deodorant soap, everyone in the league was known to be handy with the scalpel, so it was a wide-open field. Ready to see the action, I headed off to One Kneeland Street for DentalFest.

The event was the dental school’s first try at a day of challenges—some serious, some wacky—for dental students. Sponsored by the Tufts University Dental Alumni Association, it was also a chance to raise about $2,200 for three outreach programs: the Sharewood Clinic, a health clinic operated by Tufts medical and dental students; Tufts Dental Facilities, the dental school’s network of clinics for people with special needs; and Give Kids a Smile, an American Dental Association program Tufts participates in, which provides dental care for children in need.

Faculty from the dental school’s Division of Biostatistics and Experimental Design--Matthew Finkelman, Britta Magnuson, D08, Sarah Pagni, and Shruti Jain--created the project as a toothsome twist on the American Statistical Association’s annual DataFest. They teamed with Joanne Falzone, professor of comprehensive care and student volunteers David Alpert, D21, Romina Aznavaleh, D22, Jacksyn Clanton,D22, Devon Ptak, D20, Annie Rao, D20, and Lemma Salem,(D21 to develop it. The Tufts dental community was only too happy to bite.

More than forty predoctoral and postdoctoral students and thirty faculty and staff, turned out for a day that included hands-on and role-playing challenges, video-making, a trivia quiz, a Family Feud-style final elimination round, and raffle prizes that included electric toothbrushes  and highly-sought-after study apps for the dental boards.

Most of the action was in the eighth-floor preclinical classroom, for challenges such as identifying individual teeth (unanchored to a mouth); carving tooth number 3 (an upper-right molar) out of a block of Dial; and creating a work of art using the Play-Doh Dr. Drill N. Fill kit. None of this was as easy as it sounds, even for people who spend their days up to their elbows—or at least their wrists—in bicuspids and incisors.

The soap, for example, proved to be softer than most expected, and could not be manipulated as nicely as the wax dental students are used to working with. (It was also an unsightly shade of yellow, and looked in dire need of some whitening strips.)

The Drill N. Fill “tools” provided a chance for lots of creativity—no one goes into dentistry if they don’t like to work with their hands—and some unexpected headaches, such as one team that ended up with a toy drill that wouldn’t shut off. In other venues, role-playing students did their best to cope with “difficult patients” (good-hearted volunteers) and created videos to teach children about oral health.

Without any dental training myself—and a decided lack of hand-eye coordination—I couldn’t do much with the other challenges. But I am a dental nerd, and I’ve been writing about The  School of Dental Medicine for almost a decade, so the trivia round was right up my alley. First licensed American female dentist? Piece of cake—Lucy Hobbs. Editor of the Journal of Dental Education? None other than our new dean, Nadeem Karimbux. But I did not know that Rory O’Neill, associate professor of periodontics, played for Munster Rugby, an Irish professional provincial team, in 1972. Nor did I have any idea of Assistant Dean Robert Amato’s best score ever for a round of golf (71 for eighteen holes.) I did finish with a respectable thirteen out of twenty questions.

The winners did not get crowns, but took home small trophies; a larger trophy with the winning team’s initials will reside in the Becker Student Lounge on the seventh floor. Third place went to Duck, Duck, Tooth, made up of pediatric postgraduates Siobhian Sprott, Claire Park, and Michelle Vo; second place to the Tooth Fairies, D20 students Rachelle Cadet, Gynnekia Booth, and Kristin Bradley; and the champs were a team of periodontics postgraduates, Camille Neste-Laboy, Najmeh Ganji, and Yolanda Ho, who went by the name Team Trash. Don’t worry—the name is an inside joke among the team members. It has nothing to do with the practice of periodontics, they assured me.  

Helene Ragovin can be reached at helene.ragovin@tufts.edu.