Dental Students Want the World to Know the Profession is About More Than Filling Teeth

Dental Students Want the World to Know the Profession is About More Than Filling Teeth

Balbo Day at the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine shows off research and clinical work while helping dentists-in-training hone presentation skills

Rena Kreitman
Rutgers School of Dental Medicine student Rena Kreitman with her poster on therapy for a bone disease called osteonecrosis.
Photo: Maritza Camacho

'If you have great results, but you present them in a sloppy, haphazard way, people won't get the message.' – Balbo Day judge Vincent Tsiagbe, associate professor of oral biology

There was the case study of a patient who drank five liters of green tea a day to soothe her burning mouth sensation, only to discover the tea was the cause of her pain. There were photos of a special denture created for a cancer patient whose upper jaw was destroyed by the disease. And there was the story of a bacteria strain that kills leukemia cells and was tested on four research dogs in Texas, named Cara, Reba, Alyse and Patsy.

All were part of Balbo Day, the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine’s (RSDM) annual exposition that shows off the school’s research and clinical work and helps students hone their presentation skills.

The event, which takes place each March, is named for Michael Balbo, a faculty member and student advocate who started the exposition. This year, 40 student presenters were judged not only on the scientific merit of their presentations – was the methodology sound, the research timely and relevant? – but also on the design of their posters, the clarity of their explanations and whether they looked professional. No scrubs allowed. Most were dressed like corporate types.

“If you have great results, but you present them in a sloppy, haphazard way, people won’t get the message,’’ said judge Vincent Tsiagbe, an associate professor of oral biology.

“It helped me learn to communicate better,’’ said second-year student Kevin Carey, who won first place in the student summer research category. He presented a study on treatment methods for white spots on teeth, which can lead to tooth decay.

What made him a winner?

"He captured the attention of the audience and communicated the research message succinctly and professionally,” said judge Olga Korczeniewska, an RSDM research associate. “His poster led the viewer through the display with ease. The simple illustrations made the results self-explanatory, clear and concise."

Student competitors, standing before their posters, delivered their spiels to fellow students, along with reps from Colgate-Palmolive and vendors who displayed tools of the trade, such as dental mirrors and hand pieces for dental drills.

Presentations ran the gamut from technological advances, like a new type of mouth guard for oral cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy, to student research, like Naina Kaushal’s study on Vitamin D as a therapy for periodontal disease.

Prath Shah, a second-year student, explained research that involved a potential treatment for leukemia. In 2010, Scott Kachlany, an associate Professor in the Department of Oral Biology, discovered that a bacterial protein – named leukotoxin – could effectively treat mice that have leukemia. The protein comes from a bacterium that can cause periodontal disease.

“It can be a bad bacterium when you have it in your mouth, but it can also be very good,’’ said Shah.

The leukotoxin experiments progressed from mice to dogs, with help from researchers at Texas A&M University who tested the bacterium on dogs, according to Shah. Presenting at the event helped Shah connect the science classes he’s required to take at RSDM with high-level microbiological research, he said.

He also hoped his presentation could help change misconceptions about the dental profession. “A lot of people think you just fill teeth, they don’t know that it involves important scientific discoveries that can save someone’s life.’’