The Most Valuable Tool
Good research is the foundation of good practice, ADA exec says
Kathleen O’Loughlin, D81, the executive director and chief operating officer of the American Dental Association, tells a story about an observation that her husband, an HVAC mechanic, once made about one of her dental instruments. “I have one of those,” he said. “It’s just bigger.”
The tools may be similar, O’Loughlin said, but there is one important thing that keeps dentists from being perceived as glorified fix-it guys: evidence-based research. “That is what preserves us as a profession,” she said. “Without it, we are nothing more than a trade.”
O’Loughlin emphasized just how crucial research is to the future of dentistry when she gave the keynote address in March at Bates-Andrews Day, the annual showcase of research by Tufts dental students.
Dentistry, she said, has come far from the days when dentists learned by apprenticeship. “You hung around for a couple years; you went out and practiced your own way; there was no scientific basis for the profession,” she said. It has taken about 150 years for dentistry to achieve its current status as a medical profession, she said. “So we cannot risk losing our reputation . . . by focusing on things that are not based in sound science and research. We just can’t risk it.”
She encouraged students to follow in the footsteps of the creators of Novocain, nitrous oxide and modern composites. She pointed out that Rafael Bowen, the dentist who invented resin composites in the 1960s, isn’t resting on his laurels; he is currently working on new restorative materials at the ADA Foundation’s Paffenbarger Research Center.
Caries is a global public health issue, and more professional resources need to be devoted to risk assessment and prevention, O’Loughlin said. Oral health research needs to refocus on disease management related to both oral and general health outcomes. To address current environmental concerns, O’Loughlin said, we need to find suitable restorative materials to phase down the use of materials with chemicals such as mercury and lead, for instance.
“We need better, easier-to-use, more utility-driven restorative materials. If you are interested in this field of research,” she told the students in the audience, “get going.”
Yet, O’Loughlin also pointed out that by focusing on research and taking a disease-management approach, including increasing awareness of the importance of oral health to overall health and how to prevent dental diseases, dentists worldwide can help decrease the need for all restorative materials.
Dentistry needs more and better studies on best practices, she said. Too often, answers
to such questions as “Should you premedicate patients who have had joint replacements?” are hard to come by, because existing studies have not produced clear-cut results.
“Until you have a significant pool of papers … that are high-quality research papers with good design with good controls . . . sometimes, frustratingly, we don’t have the answers,” she said.
Unfortunately, good research is hindered by many obstacles, including lack of funding.
The federal budget sequestration cuts that went into effect in March meant that the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, which supports more than 1,000 research projects, lost $21 million off its books overnight.
“Speak up to your policymakers,” urged O’Loughlin, “because they undervalue oral health in general, and they certainly don’t understand the value of research in the dental profession.”
Practicing dentists, themselves, sometimes need a push toward appreciating evidence-based research. To make knowledge more accessible, the ADA’s Center for Evidence-Based Dentistry conducts systematic reviews of the scientific literature to help dentists integrate up-to-date evidence into patient care. “So that you don’t have to read 200 papers and figure that out,” O’Loughlin said, “we will do that for you.”
Bates Day Award Winners
Best Postgraduate Poster Presentation (cash prize donated by Jess Kane, David Tesini and Nancy Jo, Soporowski)
Eileen Saunders, “General Pediatricians’ Knowledge and Involvement in Oral Health Promotion in New England: A Survey”; faculty mentor: Cheen Loo
Best Scientific Research Presentation by a Senior, Andrews Society Award (cash prize donated by Jess Kane, David Tesini and Nancy Jo Soporowski)
Julianna Bair, “Shear Bond Strength of Resin Cements to Dentin and Enamel”; faculty mentors: Ronald Perry and Gerard Kugel
ADA/Dentsply Student Clinician Award for Best Overall Predoctoral Table Clinic (travel to present research at 2013 ADA annual session)
Amanda Merikas, “Contact Angle and Shear Bond Strength Tests of Silane Primers”
Second-Place Award for Predoctoral Table Clinic (cash prize donated by Jess Kane, David Tesini and Nancy Jo Soporowski, and winner presents research at Greater New York Dental Meeting)
Kyler McEwen, “Dentin Shear Bond Strength of RMGI Cements”; faculty mentors: Masly Harsono and Gerard Kugel
Third-Place Award for Predoctoral Table Clinic (cash prize donated by Jess Kane, David Tesini and Nancy Jo Soporowski, and winner presents research at Greater New York Dental Meeting)
Saad Butt, “Functional Characterization of alk8 in Zebrafish Mineralized Tissue Development”; faculty mentor: Pamela Yelick
Research Committee Award for Basic Science Research
Shruti Pore, “E-Cadherin Suppression Alters Dab2-mediated Endocytosis in Squamous Cell Carcinoma Cells”; faculty mentor: Addy Alt-Holland
Massachusetts Dental Society and ASDA Public Health Award (cash prize donated by the Massachusetts Dental Society)
Erica Stutius, “Developmentally Disabled Adults Treated under General Anesthesia: Periodontitis and Correlates”; faculty mentor: John Morgan
Omicron Kappa Upsilon (OKU) Hilde Tillman Award (cash prize donated by OKU)
Jaskaren Randhawa, “Analyzing the Trends and Associated Management Outcomes of Oral Lesions and Medication Regimens among the HIV-positive Patient Population at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine”; faculty mentors: Kanchan Ganda and Diana Esshaki
Procter & Gamble Traveling Fellowship Award
Chase Larsen, “Fracture Toughness of Provisional Dental Materials”; faculty mentors: Ronald Perry and Masly Harsono
Dr. Chad Anderson Family Award for Innovative Methodology and Research Design (cash prize donated by Chad Anderson)
Lindsay Fox, “Marginal/Internal Fit of e.Max Impulse versus e.Max CAD All-ceramic Crowns”; faculty mentors: Gerard Kugel and Masly Harsono
Multicultural Award for the Advancement of Dental Research (travel award donated by Kistama Naidu)
Errol Ramos, “Effect of Loupes on Ocular Blue Light Hazard: Indirect Viewing”; faculty mentor: Ronald Perry
Oral Health Disparities Award
Natalie McClain, “Oral Health and Body Mass Index of Intellectually/Developmentally Disabled Adults”; faculty mentor: John Morgan
Bates Student Research Group Peer-reviewed Award
Nick Freda, “Comparison of Polymerization Stress using RMGI Bond and Resin Adhesive”; faculty mentors: Ronald Perry and
ADEA Student Group Educational Research Award
Dave Cho, “The Relationship between Performance on Perceptual Ability Test Section of DAT and Clinical Success in Dental School”; faculty mentor: Yun Saksena