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THE NEXTDDS Student Ambassador Blogs

Inside a Dental Student’s Backpack

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Students today have so much equipment at their disposal. From school textbooks and notepads to clinical wear and tools, our backpacks are filled to the brim with materials just to get through the daily grind. Here are several of the essentials that every dental student needs in their backpack:

  1. Laptop – With education becoming more and more digitized—downloadable lecture PDFs, web-accessed schedule updates, online teacher evaluations, and even computerized midterms and finals (ExamSoft, anyone?)—students absolutely need their laptops on them at all times
  2.  Noise Cancelling Headphones – Tune out all that snoring from the library cubicle next to yours. Rewatching lectures takes the utmost focus and no distractions shall be allowed!
  3.  Anatomy Coloring Book and Colored Pens – Adult coloring books are all the rage nowadays, and they say it is a great stress relief. Does color-coding the medial pterygoid muscle from the lateral pterygoid muscle count?
  4.  Safety Goggles – You never know when you will need some emergency PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), particularly if you like to participate in community outreach events at local schools or health fairs. You will thank yourself later when you don’t need to run back to school to get protective eyewear.
  5.  Clear Gum Tooth Model – The typical dental student starts D1 year knowing that there are incisors and molars. But alas, there is so much more to know. Triangular fossa, distal pit, mesial buccal groove, root concavities, bifurcations and trifurcations, the Cusp of Carabelli… the list goes on. If you have your Tooth Model on hand, you will no longer think to yourself, “What does the maxillary first premolar look like again?”
  6.  Sim Lab Bench Keys – These are the keys to all of your simulation lab equipment (e.g., your restorative cassette, your loupes, your thousand-dollar drill). Forget these and you can kiss goodbye your sign-offs for the day!
  7.  Healthy Snacks – Fresh fruits, nuts, vegetable chips… Something to get you through a day of classes and studying but doesn’t mess with your Stephen’s Curve too drastically.
  8.  Water Canteen – To be filled with 0.7ppm of fluoridated water, of course!
  9.  Toothbrush, Toothpaste, and Floss – Because we all brush three times a day, right? Plus, it’s always nice to have some floss handy, particularly when your classmate comes up and whispers, “You have some leftover lunch between #9 and #10.”
  10.  Invisalign Aligners – Your upperclassmen need more orthodontic cases and you want to fix that diastema. Win-win!
  11.  Comfy Sneakers – Great for that one-hour gym break between classes. Also great for when you forgot to wear close-toed shoes to clinic…again.
  12.  Hand Sanitizer – Our nitrile gloves rip sometimes. Enough said! 

See associated image here: http://i66.tinypic.com/akcplj.jpg

These are just some of the things that can be found in my backpack before I head out to class and clinic each day. Did I miss anything? What additional items are in your backpack?

Dental Students and Life Partners: The Jacksons

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For most couples, the first year of marriage is described as tough and challenging. The majority of couples who “survive” their first year don’t spend 24 hours a day/7 days a week together either—but we do, and we wouldn't have it any other way.

Our romance began at the mere age of fourteen, in the midst of a Civics class. After high school, we entered into undergraduate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign together, taking the same classes, and living mere steps away from each other. Throughout our dating years, we encouraged and motivated one another to strive to be better individually, which only strengthened our relationship. The constant studying together and competing against each other made us better. Ultimately, we decided on the same dream of dental school and ended up at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry two months after our wedding.

Starry-eyed and filled with the excitement that all first-year students exude, we didn’t quite think through what school might be like as married classmates with little time to ourselves. After the August break ended, the fall semester picked up quickly and soon our conversations were constantly dictated by school—from classes to classmates, school was all-consuming. As the end of the fall semester neared, we were exhausted with school and talking about it constantly. We made a pact to take at least one night out of our week to spend time together and leave school out of the equation. This has allowed us to take a break from school and take time to learn more about each other. 

It has been a difficult transition, even when growing up together, to compete against your best friend for the past eight years. When dental school began, we thought that the competitiveness would come to a halt. It didn’t. However, it turns out that we have learned to love one another more and are quick to forgive and move on from arguing over the best way to drop a box in operative lab!

Thinking about life after dental school is something we talk about almost daily. With having hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt between the both of us, being frugal with our student loan money and having a budget is something we both need to be successful with coming out of school.

After considering all the options of where to go after school, there isn’t anything better than being back in our hometown of Mount Vernon, Illinois with family and friends by our side. It has been great to be away for undergraduate and dental school, but with both families living so close together, and our community needing more dentists, you can’t pass up an opportunity like that!

We have learned a lot about ourselves this past year. It’s been fun, and sometimes difficult—but mostly wonderful. It’s a unique gift that we’ve been given: to be married to our best friend, to be classmates, and to still be madly in love. We are so thankful!

The Transition to Becoming an Upperclassman

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Looking back at when I was a D1, all I ever hoped and strived for was the day I would start clinic. That day for me occurred a few months ago, back in June, and let’s just say it was an adjustment that I had not anticipated. Don’t get me wrong, I love clinic and I love working on actual patients instead of typodonts, but the transition was a bit difficult.

One of the biggest parts of this transition was contacting my patients and discussing different options for treatment plans. At our school, you get assigned a handful of patients whom you are responsible to contact and you must schedule your own appointments. Being the sole correspondent, I developed a new set of communication skills. These included speaking in a more professional manner on the phone, along with being very direct in what was expected with each upcoming appointment. Many patients are unaware of the longer appointments and that certain procedures will take multiple appointments, and thus being direct about this process is extremely crucial to keep any and all patients happy. I also learned to be empathetic when my patients would cancel due to unforeseen circumstances, but also to make it a priority to reschedule at the earliest convenience for both parties involved.

Another item I learned through this transition is that not everyone makes dental work a priority. This was a little bit of a shock for me because I have gone to the dentist all my life, twice a year as suggested, and it never truly occurred to me that not everyone values the need to visit a dentist. It wasn’t until I had a conversation with one of my classmates about our frustrations with patients cancelling on us that he said, “Well, it’s like going to the doctor—you don’t really go unless you’re sick.” The same can be said about dentistry, that people only come in when they are in pain or when something just doesn’t feel right with their teeth. The more I interact with patients, the more I learn that not everyone knows how important oral health is, and thus educating my patients has become one of my main concerns. I feel that my patients appreciate how adamant I am about the importance of better oral hygiene habits and I have seen a drastic change in these patients’ overall oral health.

Working with real humans who have saliva and blood and nerves was definitely overwhelming and intimidating at first. However, I had to remind myself that the first two years of pre-clinical work had prepared me enough to tackle on the real world challenges of dentistry. Having confidence in your work will take you further than you could have imagined and although I am far from being a master of this profession, each day is a new opportunity to learn more about the growing field of dentistry.

Management of patient’s with Autism Spectrum Disorder

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Autism is a group of complex disorders of brain development, which is characterized by social interaction difficulties, repetitive behaviors and social communication challenges. Symptoms vary in severity and they range from mild to severe.  Patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder have a reported lower rate of dental caries but are at higher risk for other oral conditions. These patients have higher risk of bruxism, tongue thrusting, self-injury with non-nutritive biting; erosion, xerostomia and they also may have a hyper gag reflex.


The biggest challenge with these patients is in the aspect of social interaction and communication. In the field of dentistry, the providers are in very close proximity to these patients and much of what we do in providing treatment and getting to know the patient involved verbal and non-verbal communication. According to the CDC, about 40% of individuals with ASD are non-verbal. This can pose as a challenge because we cannot get proper feedback through language and they may communicate in a different way that may disrupt dental treatment. These patients may also exhibit sensory processing issues, which cause them to be hyper or hyposensitive to sounds, smells, taste, sight and human touch.  For those who are hypersensitive, a dental office can be overwhelming due to the various instruments, sounds and smells of materials that are in an office. Due to this, some children with ASD may have significant anxiety about going to the dentist and we must adjust treatment and the environment to make the patient more comfortable.

As providers, we can take various steps to ensure that our patient with ASD is comfortable. The first step can be to use pictures and videos to get the patient familiar with a dental setting. We can work with the parents in learning what the patient is sensitive to and what triggers negative reactions by the patient. When the patient first comes in, we can have appointments to get the child familiar with the office and the instruments. We can do so when the office is not as busy and with any adjustment such as a dimly lit room, for example. We can have a few short visits like this to start to desensitize the patient. Knowing what the patient likes is very important for a successful visit with any pediatric patient but it is especially important for patients with ASD. Whether the patient has a favorite toy or likes to listen to music we cam have those items on hand with a set of awesome sunglasses to keep the patient distracted and relaxed. We can also implement a tell-show-do method of learning so the patient knows exactly what we are doing. Patients with ASD also may have unusual response to stimuli and unpredictable body movements so we must minimize distractions and start to become familiar with any patterns that the patients may have. All of these things must be documented so we can know what to do to have a smooth appointment.  The patient’s parents or caregiver can give the providers a sense of how tolerant the patient is with human contact. Just like any other pediatric patient, the providers must have all proper emergency protocol established and if necessary may have to refer to treatment in an OR if they cannot tolerate being in a general practice setting. As providers we must be prepared to treat any type of patient that comes through our door and patients with special needs are not an exception. 

Financial Literacy

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Pursuing a degree in higher education comes with many costs, namely a financial cost. It is inevitable that through this journey we will most likely incur debt, but it’s vital that we be committed to understanding financial literacy, engage in active financial planning, and live frugally in order to keep our student loan debt to a minimum.

Having an understanding of financial literacy is the first step to keeping debt low. How well a person manages their money, whether borrowed or earned, is a reflection of their understanding of financial literacy. As students, we have many resources available to us at our respective university’s Financial Aid Department. We can learn many things from them, including, but not limited to the following:

Managing debt

Options of repayment

Loan forgiveness programs

What sources to borrow from

Refinancing loans

Efficiently budget

It is important to financially plan and have an economic mindset. Active financial planning includes taking out minimum loans and budgeting accordingly. For me that has included taking out enough money for my education, cost of living, and a little extra to cover groceries, gas, books, and miscellaneous costs. Since this is the first time in my life where I have not worked or received financial help from my family, I have been forced to live frugally. Eating out weekly has been cut down to monthly treats. Concerts have become free events in the community and on campus. Trips to the movie theater have become trips to Red Box. Gym memberships have morphed into using the Recreation Center.

Between classes, studying, and extracurricular meetings and events, I quite honestly don’t have much time where I could be spending money. Being a part of clubs that I am passionate about gives me something to put my time and energy towards, and I never thought about it until now: it’s also free!

Learning to budget wisely now will translate to better money management in the future. Despite the financial burdens of dental school, this is the best investment we will ever make!

Smoking and Periodontal Disease

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In a dental practice, a dentist will see several smokers on a regular basis. Although smoking causes 1 in 5 deaths in the United States every year, as well as being the single greatest preventable cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States, people still do it. The incidence of smoking also increases, with thousands of teens starting the habit. Cigarettes contain approximately 600 ingredients, and 4,800 chemicals of which around 70 are known to cause cancer. Some of the chemicals found in cigarettes are used in our daily lives and are not suitable for the human body, such as acetone, ammonia, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and lead among others. Several of the well-known risks of smoking are cancer (of the head and neck, lung, stomach, etc.), stroke, blindness, pneumonia, heart disease, chronic lung disease, asthma, including several other effects on the smoker’s health. One of the effects less talked about in the media is the effect of smoking on the patient’s oral health; especially with periodontal disease.

            Anyone could suffer from periodontal disease, but smokers have a higher prevalence and severity. In addition, smoking affects the response to the treatment of periodontal disease, making it progress faster. Several studies have shown that smokers have greater frequencies of periodontally involved teeth and disease sites when compared to nonsmokers, thus making smoking a risk factor for chronic periodontal disease. Studies also demonstrate that smokers have more plaque and/or more virulent types of plaque bacteria. Bacteria that is normally found in the oral flora are found to have a higher prevalence amongst smokers when compared to non-smokers. This in turn leads to greater probing depth (more than 3.5 mm pockets) and the impairment of the host in fighting this infection. Furthermore, smoking also affects the treatment aspect of periodontal disease with smokers showing less pocket depth reduction after scaling and root planning, and a decrease on the regeneration of clinical attachment levels.

            As health care professionals, it is impossible for us to have a smoking-free patient pool. We have the option to educate our patients and provide them with the necessary means to quit if they so desire. The ADA provides us with several “Tobacco Cessation Strategies” that could aid the dental professional when helping a patient. The health care provider has at their disposal the latest counseling techniques and drug information for treating tobacco dependence. In addition, we can be trained to use pharmacotherapy to further help our patients. Additionally, there are self-help tobacco cessation tools that can be brought to the attention of the patient, as well as literature to educate and help guide our patients to a better lifestyle. It is important to remember that smoking slowly deteriorates the overall health of the individual. It not only affects the lungs; it has a systemic effect on the human body. It is important to make it our responsibility to educate and support the patients that are willing to make the changes for a healthy life.