You read a restaurant review on Yelp. You survey the menu and ask a friend about their favorite dish. You may even ask the waiter for more information about the ingredients. Who would have thought that going out to dinner would require so much research? Informally, we use research to help us make decisions in our daily lives. Formally, research is used to gather information and discover associations between topics. With an interest in learning more about underserved populations, I used research techniques to explore barriers to oral health for Latinos in eastern North Carolina from the perspective of community health workers.
As a health sciences major, I enrolled in a course called Evidence-Based Practice. Every week, we would learn new skills to apply to the ultimate objective: choose a clinical topic in our field and evaluate the literature to make a (hypothetical) treatment decision. As an undergraduate student with little exposure to clinical research papers, the assigned task seemed overwhelming. The truth is, learning how to evaluate literature is a skill that takes effort and time to develop, but doing so is critical. Evidence-based dentistry is so important, in fact, that it is listed as one of ADEA’s entry-level competencies for graduates entering into practice. Despite this, new dentists struggle to implement it into their practices. The two most frequently cited obstacles are lack of time and insufficient background knowledge to evaluate research critically. If you are unfamiliar with evidence-based dentistry, here are some things to help get you acquainted.
Flap design and suturing are critical components of surgical dentistry due to their role in exposing otherwise inaccessible teeth or osseous structures during oral surgery. Under the mentorship of Dr. Jeffrey A. Elo at the Western University of Health Sciences, I investigated how the use of a novel incision and flap design with primary closure can drastically reduce the rate of alveolar osteitis (“dry socket”) following mandibular third molar removal, a phenomenon which reportedly affects 10-45% of patients.
DPSCs are multipotent type stem cells located in the pulp of our teeth. Since their discovery in 2005, recent research has shown their great potential for human therapeutic applications. For example, a 2015 study published in Stem Cells Translational Medicine found promising results in utilizing DPSCs in the regeneration and transplantation of corneal cells. However, in order to fully harness their regenerative therapies, improved cultivation techniques must be explored to increase their growth and proliferation following cryopreservation.
Xylitol was introduced to the world of dentistry in the late 20th century. But even before that, it was used as a sweetener in many parts of the world. In dentistry, many studies have shown potential benefits of xylitol in caries prevention and plaque formation. Streptococcus mutans, a type of caries-causing bacteria, requires sugar to proliferate. But studies such as this one have shown that it cannot use xylitol for energy production and will eventually die when exposed to it. Xylitol also weakens the adhesion of plaque-causing microorganisms and thereby helps in preventing plaque formation.
Even with a long list of dentifrices, rinses, antibiotics and drugs to combat gingivitis and periodontitis, the battle continues. If you are in despair for what to prescribe next, don’t worry; there may be an answer from our botany-oriented colleagues. There is a growing wave of research being done that turns to nature to help fight our war against inflammation in the oral cavity. Many of these research projects focus on the main culprit of oral inflammation – the dreaded lipopolysaccharide (LPS). LPS is the byproduct of many periodontal pathogens, and it wreaks havoc on the supporting tissues comprising the periodontium. Researchers believe that if natural agents can mediate the inflammatory reaction of the host cells, then destruction of the gingiva and alveolar bone can be slowed or halted.
Research was foreign to me during my undergraduate studies. Yet in dental school, where it parallels future procedures, research became more interesting to me. Appreciating the importance of a project for the sake of its impact on practice in the “real world” lit a fire within me to be continuously involved in research. This excitement led to my participation in five projects to date. If you are passionate about something, success will follow. But how do you juggle five projects?