Here’s how dental students are staying well during the COVID-19 pandemic

As dental students across the country continue their self-quarantine during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many dental schools across the United States have switched to an online learning format. A large part of our dental education stems from hands-on experiences, time spent in the simulation labs, treating patients in clinic and other clinical encounters, so without the ability to be at school, it is normal to feel uncertain, stressed or even anxious.

Now more than ever, focusing on our well-being is essential as we adjust to our new routines away from campus. Over the past few weeks, I sought to find out what dental students around the country are doing during their social distancing when they aren’t attending class online.  

Physical wellness 

Malika A. Malik, Michigan ’21, district 6 trustee: “In a time full of uncertainty and negativity, I have found many positives to my ‘isolation vacation’! Not having a schedule has removed the rush of a typical day. I can start the day with breakfast (lately a smoothie) and have more time to cook in the evening.

“My favorite part of the day has been tuning in to my studio’s live workouts! There are a variety of workouts such as barre, kickboxing and HIIT. It’s encouraging to have a group of people around the country encouraging each other to get moving while stuck at home. I even had the opportunity to teach a class from my living room! There’s nothing like keeping yourself accountable (I do this by posting to Instagram) and having 50 minutes dedicated to self-care. Maybe one day I will even share the bloopers of me struggling through most workouts!” 

Malika A. Malik after enjoying one of her home workouts.

Manuel Perea, Puerto Rico ’22: “Maintaining physical wellness at home has not been an easy task because I’m used to staying active in more spacious environments like the gym, the park where I walk my dog or even the 50 meter pool where I used to swim every day. Swimming has been a big part of my life since I was a child, and I have always enjoyed the benefits that the sport has brought to my life. However since starting dental school, swimming has been at the bottom of my to-do list. During this time of quarantine, I have turned that list upside-down and found a way to practice swimming, even in a 4.5-meter pool. This crazy project was possible with some ropes and exercise bands I had laying around the house.

“It is important to realize that social distancing is challenging but also rewarding because we are forced to invest time into ourselves, a goal that is sometimes lost when we are so invested in our studies and professional goals.” 

Manuel Perea gets creative during his swims.

David Alpert, Tufts ’21, ASDA Contributing Editor: “I used to ignore balance, mobility and muscular endurance as part of my workouts. Now, with the multitude of free home workouts online and no weights available, these are the focus of my exercise routines. I used to do a lot of martial arts and gymnastics in college, so I try to add some of those movements in too to keep things interesting. I also normally don’t have much time to cook anything fun, but now I can make new and exciting dishes that are pretty healthy. I hope to come out of the quarantine better than how I started, whether it’s perfecting my gumbo recipe or finally holding that perfect handstand.” 

Brenda Shah, New York ’20: “I have been using this [time] to focus on physical wellness with my mom.

“We go on power walks around the neighborhood every day to get our steps in, get some fresh air and sunlight, and see some friendly neighbors from a distance!”  

Cameron Kocan, Florida ’23: “In the past few weeks, I have noticed that the time I spent driving has been replaced with bike rides and runs with my dog. Being outside is refreshing and helps me refocus. Now that my schedule is more flexible, I schedule a mid-day ‘field trip’ so that I can come back to work with greater mental clarity. This improves the quality of my work as well as my overall well-being.” 

Cameron Kocan pictured with his dog during one of their runs.

Jillian Stacey, Colorado ’21, ASDA Council on Membership chair: “In these uncertain and scary times, dental students may find comfort and balance in the maintenance of a home workout practice. As someone who had been very active throughout my life, I’ve realized that my dental school fitness routine was severely lacking and, at times, non-existent. Despite all of the challenges this current era presents, one thing I am thankful for is having more time and renewed motivation to make physical fitness a staple of my everyday life.

“For the past couple of weeks, free workout routines and programs on YouTube have made a huge difference in my confidence, mood and energy levels in just a short time. It’s never too late to pick up a new exercise routine that you can be consistent with — it took me a whole three years of dental school!” 

Jillian Stacey has been using a daily free yoga fitness program on YouTube.

Jack Lupfer, Stony Brook ’20: “Despite all gyms being closed, I have been making an effort to still workout each day and find new, creative ways to get active and stay in shape, in spite of these social distancing times we’ve been living in. Whether it be going out and running each day, or doing some body and strength exercises in my house, there are still a plethora of ways to stay active and fit, despite being confined within the walls of our homes. Additionally, I’ve been working on being more cognizant of my nutrition and attempting to eat healthy, making smoothies and other things that I normally ‘don’t have the time for’ during regular dental school life.”  

Jack Lupfer reveals how to build the perfect smoothie.

Emotional wellness 

Anabel Alvarez, University of South Florida ’21, Predental Advisory Committee member: “During these moments of uncertainty, any feelings or emotions that arise within us have validity. I like to step into the moment, be mindful and focus on my breathing to calm down my fight-or-flight responses. Deep diaphragmatic breathing, meditation and affirmations are an asset to the mental health field because they reduce feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.

“Because our brains have plasticity, repetition of meditations or affirmations over time will help us reinforce or weaken certain neural pathways and synapses. One of my favorite things to listen to is Affirmation Pod by Josie Ong.”

Aileen Jong, Alabama ’21: “Usually, I love being on my own in my one-bedroom apartment. However, loneliness can start to set in when undergoing self-quarantine without friends or family.

“I first began fostering kittens during my D1 year, but since then have not had the chance or time with the dental school workload becoming heavier. This past week, the local humane society had to close its adoption floor temporarily due to the COVID-19 outbreak and announced that all animals had to evacuate and go into foster homes. I jumped at the opportunity to once again foster a feline friend in order to help the shelter but, perhaps more importantly, to have a companion during these isolated times. Willow is a 1-year-old tabby cat who has been the best emotional support. She loves cuddling, gazing out the window and napping in laps!”  

Willow, the adorable cat Aileen Jong is currently fostering, curls up in her lap while she is doing schoolwork at home.

Katie O’Friel, Louisiana ‘22: “Living in New Orleans, it has been a challenge emotionally to read and hear about the devastation that COVID-19 is causing within the city as well as the rest of the world. I have recognized that one of the best things I can do for my emotional wellness is to allow myself to express my feelings and emotions. We all have different reactions during this extraordinary period of our lives. It is important to reach out to our loved ones, peers and mentors during this time to remind ourselves that we are all fighting the same battle.

“I believe emotional wellness encompasses each of the other four dimensions of wellness promoted by ASDA; thus, by focusing on the environmental, physical, occupational and intellectual pillars of wellness on a daily basis, I am able to be most aware of the state of my emotional wellness. Each day during this quarantine period, I start with a short list of attainable goals for myself to complete so that I avoid falling into a lethargic state of mind and body. This list may include taking a walk in the sunshine, spending time with my cat, watering my new plants, cleaning a part of my house or completing a school assignment.”  

Mariangel Fuchs, LECOM ’23: “The bonds we share with our peers shape our experiences of professional school and helps us feel supported. I practice wellness by using technology such as Zoom and social media to stay motivated, connected and engaged with other students not only at my program, but at other dental schools and students who are predental.

Feeling supported and maintaining community has been a great way to maintain a healthy mind through these last few weeks of the semester, as well as encourage myself and others to stay mentally healthy. 

Intellectual wellness 

Jeannie Binder, Texas-Houston ‘21: “Reading has become a big part of maintaining intellectual wellness in my quarantine life. You may be thinking that reading is an uninspired or obvious choice, but I think it’s the perfect activity for being at home. For one, I’d be willing to bet that most of us already have lots of unread books around the house. And if you don’t, it’s easy to order them online, download them onto your phone or check out electronic copies virtually from your local library through apps like Libby and OverDrive. A close friend of mine in my class started a virtual book club, which is allowing our class to enjoy a great book and stay socially connected at the same time. Apart from our DS3 book club, I’m tackling the Harry Potter books in French. I’m partway through book six, so hopefully I’ll be finished with the series and (moderately) fluent by the time this travel ban is lifted. Anyone up for a post-viral trip to Paris?”  

Neha Kwatra, Midwestern-Arizona ‘23: “There are many ways to practice intellectual wellness when you’re at home. My personal favorites are knitting and working on puzzles. Not only are these fun ways to relax while also using your brain, they help maintain hand skills as well as perceptual ability skills. I have also found it important to keep up with the lectures that my school is sharing online. I like to try to maintain as much normalcy as possible in my day so that I will be able to pick up where I left off with school.”  

Neha Kwatra works on her latest knitting project in the company of her dogs.

Andrew Sadek, Nova Southeastern ‘21: “Remember all the books that you wanted to read during dental school, but did not read because you did not have the time? Remember all the things that you wanted to look into but did not have time? Or how about the new language you wanted to learn but did not have time? In my case, how about the boards exam that you wanted to study for?

“Many of us have tasks that we wished for extra time to start on, continue or finish, so now may be the perfect time for those tasks. By doing so, we keep our minds active, gain more knowledge and continue to grow ourselves. Once done with a task, just think: It’s on to the next one! Please stay safe everyone. This too shall pass!”  

Sarina Shafiyan-Rad, Tufts ‘22: “To keep myself sane during this pandemic, I’ve been exploring a lot of online resources. I’m in my second year, and unfortunately these next four weeks, I’m in a crucial exam block so I’m starting to feel that burnout stage with all of the exams. My old coping mechanisms of hanging out with friends and going out and exploring Boston are not viable options at the moment, so I had to adapt. I’m a huge history buff and I love learning new information about anything. I’ve visited the Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Science and the Boston Aquarium so many times I’ve lost count. Since those places are now closed, I did some searching online and I found that a lot of major museums in the world have created virtual tours of their exhibits.

“Whenever I need a break from studying, I allow myself to log on and explore one exhibit before going back to work. Let’s just say I’ve taken a lot of well-deserved mental breaks, and I’ve virtually gone through over 30 exhibits in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.” 

Here is what one of the online museum exhibits looks like from Sarina Shafiyan-Rad’s computer.

Rachel Bryant, Midwestern-Arizona ‘21: “Although our daily routines have been interrupted, it is important for all of us to be participating in activities that bring peace, health and happiness. For me, getting back to a daily routine is imperative for my well-being. Even though I am not in clinic treating patients, I am trying to stick to a schedule, or checklist of productive activities, in order to maintain my intellectual wellness.

“Part of my schedule includes catching up on my reading list, all while enjoying some coffee and healthy snacks! The novel I am delving into now is “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. I wish health and happiness to everyone during these unprecedented times.”  

From the library of Rachel Bryant comes her current read and recommendation.

Occupational wellness 

Lauren Cuculino, LECOM ‘21: “I have been reaching out to touch base with those who shaped my journey the most. Over the past few days, I’ve emailed a few of my college professors with whom I’ve shared some wonderful experiences, as these individuals helped me to be the student I am today.

“I also gave a few of my dental mentors a call to ask their opinion on some of the patient cases I’ve had in clinic. These dentists helped shape my practice philosophy, so I always appreciate bouncing ideas off of them. Even though everyone’s personal and professional lives are uncertain at the moment, it’s always a treat to share meaningful conversations with those who will always mean a great deal to us!”  

Marco A. Gargano, Louisiana ‘23: “While no one is immune to the societal effects that COVID-19 is placing on us, we still have the opportunity to make the best of this situation. For those of us in Louisiana, this has included the use of telecommunications for lectures, socializing and breakout sessions. We may not all be together physically, but Zoom and Instagram allow us to interact with one another to share ideas and study together before tests.

“In fact, our morphology professor, Dr. Jonathan Esquivel, frequently hosts lectures live on Instagram. Our current situation may not be the most conventional, but there’s still something special about an unconventional approach that can inspire greatness.”  

Shelby Anderson, LECOM ‘22: “During this time, I am honoring my civic duty of social distancing for the health of myself and others. At home, I am practicing occupational wellness through yoga. I would consider myself at a beginner/intermediate level – no handstands yet!

“Through yoga, I strengthen my core and stretch my muscles. When it is time to return to the operatory, I hope through muscle memory I will resume neutral ergonomic practices.” 

Sometimes Shelby Anderson’s dog likes to join her yoga workouts.

Sonali Lallu, University of Central Florida ‘22, ASDA predental consultant: “I am practicing wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic by drawing and painting. Since my school has transitioned to being fully online, it’s left me with even more free time to focus on my hobbies. A big goal of mine for 2020 was to make more time to focus on my creative endeavors, which isn’t always easy to do when you’re focused on a busy class schedule or keeping up with extracurricular activities. Now, I’ve been able to incorporate drawing and painting into my weekly routine, which is not only a great stress reliever, but a way for me to continue working on my manual dexterity.

“I enjoy creating super detailed drawings and paintings to continue working on my attention to detail and manual dexterity skills. Overall, while the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot of changes to everyone’s lives, it’s important to find the positives in situations like these, and practicing wellness through drawing and painting has definitely helped me do that!”  

Painting is Sonali Lallu’s favorite way to relieve stress and work on her manual dexterity.

Environmental wellness  

Joell Chen, Roseman ‘21: “I’ve been practicing environmental wellness by reorganizing my apartment and closet. I do my best to trade or sell items on Poshmark.com/Depop.com because most donated clothing actually ends up in landfills. Remember that decluttering does not always mean throwing things out, which often creates more waste for other individuals and organizations to address. A great place to start is being mindful of ways to recycle and repurpose what you already have.

“P.S.: Those giant vendor fair totes make the best grocery bags when you’re getting quarantine essentials! I’ve also been reading “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate” by Naomi Klein while my cat keeps me company.” 

Joell Chen takes a break from “Marie Kondo’ing” her living space to read her current favorite book with her cat.

Dr. Aditi Gadhvi, BDS, MPA, international dental student, ASDA Predental Advisory Committee member: “As a part of practicing ASDA wellness, I am choosing to focus much more on environmental wellness. I am, of course, self-isolating and also recycling my vegetable/organic waste into composting and planting new seedlings across my lawn. I have also adjusted the heater and A/C settings to a constant temperature to avoid extra emissions from an auto-adjustable setting, and I’m being more aware of my waste production while at home.” 

Dr. Aditi Gadhvi enjoys staying current with organized dentistry.

Chase Cerbone, Kentucky ‘23: “Growing up in south Florida, I became accustomed to driving everywhere I wanted to go. Upon starting dental school at the University of Kentucky, I decided to purchase a bicycle and starting biking to class. When the realization set in that I would be heading home to wait out this global health incident, I knew I would bring home my bicycle. Now that I spend almost all day inside, I make sure to set aside an hour a day and take a bike ride. Some days making it to the beach and enjoying the sound of the ocean is all it takes to recenter yourself.” 

Chase Cerbone takes a break from riding his bike to take in the view.

Jennifer Lenning, Tennessee ‘21: “Because of this COVID-19 pandemic, I have had a lot of time to practice environmental wellness since I am staying at home. For example, my husband and I are taking this time to clean out our drawers and donate clothes we aren’t wearing anymore. We are also taking the time to fold and organize like Marie Kondo! We are able to clean up our home and declutter areas that we wouldn’t otherwise have the time to organize.”  

What I discovered among dental student life during these times was profound: The resilience, creativity and compassion of dental students around the country echoed boldly in every response I received, and my heart grew warmer with each one that I read. I feel encouraged by my fellow ASDA members and grateful for the community we share within the organization.

I urge you to continue to remember your fellow students and the communities around you. Keep your family, friends and loved ones close. If you find yourself with more time on your hands, perhaps take advantage of it by trying something new, exploring something fun or focusing on your health and wellness. Together, we can stay strong and continue to move forward, navigating these unprecedented times. Stay well.

~Callista Schulenburg, LECOM ’22, ASDA Editor-in-Chief

Callista Schulenburg

Callista is in her third year at LECOM School of Dental Medicine. She is currently serving as 2020-21 Editor-in-Chief of the American Student Dental Association and the Wellness Co-Chair for District 5. She enjoys spending time with her friends and family, reading, writing and being outside in the Florida sunshine. Her favorite part about ASDA is meeting and getting to work with dental student authors from all over the country, sharing their voices and stories in ASDA publications.

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