This summer, I worked in Dr. Ozer’s lab at Penn Dental studying adhesive materials. Adhesive dentistry is an important field of research due to the significance of adhesives in composite restorations (colloquially known as “white fillings”), which are a common treatment for tooth decay. While composite resins are a favored restorative material for their aesthetic quality, one disadvantage is their tendency to shrink when polymerized, which may cause bacteria to enter and lead to further decay. So, creating a strong bond between tooth and composite is a critical step for the best performance of composite restorations.
The goal of the project was to study the effect of combining two different adhesive methods, as well as adding an antibacterial material to the bonding, in order to discover whether these changes would improve the strength and longevity of dental bonding agents. My role involved testing the bond strength of the adhesives by cutting restored teeth into cross-sectional sticks with a circular diamond blade, then using a microtensile tester to find out the force it takes to break the bond between tooth and composite for each stick.
This was my second summer working on this project, yet while the prior summer’s testing went quite smoothly, this summer we ran into some unexpected behaviors from the prepared samples that prevented us from collecting data – the bond between the tooth and the composite kept breaking apart during the cutting phase, across the control and experimental samples. As a result, it may be necessary to re-restore many samples as well as put them in several more weeks of thermocycling.
Though it was frustrating that we would need to reexamine each of the steps undertaken to prepare the samples, I believe this summer was in fact a great learning experience in dealing with setbacks in academic research, as I’ve learned to troubleshoot and perform further experimentation to try to identify the source of the problem. In addition, I learned a lot about the process of composite restorations, as well as dental materials in general – as a predental student, I find this knowledge very valuable to my future dental studies. Through this research experience, I also have greater appreciation for all the work that goes into finding the best materials for people’s dental treatments, which could have great tangible impacts on their daily lives. Participating in this project has allowed me to really appreciate both the joys and sorrows that come with the successes and difficulties of research.