Student Spotlight

Innovating and creating ‘big ideas’ as a dental student

Day in and day out, there are thousands of products and processes whose design and function go by unnoticed. This is usually a sign of good design. A poorly designed product raises questions about how it could be made better. Most of the time, only a few seconds are given to the thought of how to improve something and no further action is taken.

A year ago, my colleague Sean Riazi and I took issue with the plastic barriers in the dental setting, specifically the barriers on air-water sprays and suctions that come in close proximity to patients’ mouths. We find that plastic barriers are cumbersome and contribute to a large amount of plastic waste in the dental setting. Additionally, their sole purpose of infection control is not being met adequately due to their flimsy nature.

Thoughts of how to improve this barrier system kept coming back to us. Soon, we found ourselves pursuing an idea that would offer more a protective, comfortable and sustainable dental barrier cover for our instruments.

Over the course of a year, our alternative idea transformed from a simple thought to prototypes in the making. I’m not quite sure if Sean and I ever envisioned entrepreneurship for ourselves, but this project has stimulated a part of our brains we hadn’t noticed was so inactive. It is easy to get caught in our daily routine as students, focused on our requirements and career, without taking time to broaden our vision and hone our problem-solving skills outside the operatory.

Here at the University of Pittsburgh, we are fortunate to have an amazing innovation center. The Big Idea Center at Pitt hosts year-round events such as pitch competitions and entrepreneur workshops. In the spring, the center hosts The Randall Family Big Idea Competition. During this two-month event, teams are paired up with experienced entrepreneurs and have the opportunity to research and develop their ideas.

Our project, ProSil, took third place this year, and we plan to move forward with prototype testing and further market discovery with the intention of launching this product in the next two years. We look forward to the future of our product and the future of dentistry. Ultimately, our company will be one that improves infection control in the dental setting and offers sustainability to offices by cutting down on plastic waste.

~Vivian Villasenor, Pittsburgh ’22

Vivian Villasenor

Vivian Villasenor is a fourth-year dental student at the University of Pittsburgh. She is the co-founder of start-up ProSil and also serves as the President of the Hispanic Student Dental Association at Pitt Dental Medicine.

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