This summer, I worked with the Department of Oral Medicine in the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Dental Medicine under Dr. Thomas Sollecito and Dr. Takako Tanaka. The project was focused on investigating the prevalence of emergency department (ED) utilization for dental problems and the causes behind this phenomenon. Hospital emergency rooms are, for the most part, unable to fix the underlying causes behind dental problems, and the treatments they prescribe are generally temporary and ineffectual. By identifying at-risk populations and the reasons behind their visits, we will be better positioned to tackle this public health issue.
This project served as my first introduction to university research; thus, every meeting I had with my mentors was helpful in building my understanding of the appropriate procedures surrounding different stages of the project. At first, I was heavily involved in drafting the primary proposal that was submitted to the Institutional Review Board for ethical review (due to the presence of human subjects). I was also introduced to axiUm, a dental electronic health record program that I will need to navigate in the future. Working in conjunction with the Dental School Emergency Clinic, we set up the questionnaire and the appropriate consent form for incoming patients. For the analytic portion of the experiment, which I will be continuing throughout the school year, we will be utilizing appropriate statistical methods to analyze the data and discern trends.
As an aspiring dentist, I really valued this project because it helped me broaden my perspective on the profession and served as a valuable introduction to the world of research. Up to this point, most of my experience with dentistry has been limited to the shadowing of clinical work. This project enabled me to take a step back and view dentistry in a more holistic sense, by showing me the greater public health implications of clinical work. It also allowed me to tie in other disciplines that I am interested in, such as sociology and statistics, into my intended profession. Perhaps my biggest takeaway from this research project is that in the world of research, there are no hard and fast boundaries to the field, and that an interdisciplinary approach will always yield valuable insights.