Summer Research Scholars showcase projects

The School of Dental Medicine’s four Summer Research Scholars presented their posters this week during the 23rd Annual Medical Student Scholarship Forum Virtual Celebration.

During the virtual event, Laura Bauza-Davila, Hieu Nguyen, Matthew Pendleton and Tyler Reason—all members of the Class of 2024—presented their posters based on projects they began June 1. Each year, the SoDM sponsors three to four incoming students to participate in the Summer Research Scholars Program, allowing them to conduct research under the close mentorship of SoDM faculty investigators and those from other health sciences schools, colleges, institutes and centers.

Hieu Nguyen

“Our research mission is to generate new knowledge that can have an impact on the oral and general health of North Carolinians and populations nationally and globally,” said Dr. David Paquette, SoDM professor and chair, Department of Surgical Sciences; assistant dean for academic success and interim associate dean for research.

The Summer Scholars Research Program began at the School of Dental Medicine in 2014 and trains students to identify research questions, design a study that sufficiently answers the specific question, analyze and interpret data in a meaningful way and effectively present results so that they can have the broadest possible impact. Students discuss and receive feedback regarding their projects and learn how to create an abstract and poster presentation from their work.

“This year’s Summer Research Scholars investigated a range of topics: dental caries risk assessment, dentists’ opioid prescribing behaviors, dental service utilization for underserved communities and anatomical changes that occur subsequent to tooth loss,” Paquette said. “All of these projects are mission-aligned in generating new knowledge that can improve patient and population health and well-being.”

Tyler Reason

Tyler Reason

This year’s projects took on a different look because of constraints the COVID-19 pandemic put on research. The projects could not involve new laboratory experiments or data collection from human subjects or patients, so each project focused on extraction and analysis of data from the school’s dental electronic record system.

The students, however, still came away from the experience with a deeper understanding of the research process.

“By communicating and defending their science to peers and colleagues, these scholars have a solid framework to problem-solve, critically think and make evidence-based decisions as they develop professionally at SoDM and beyond,” Paquettte said. “Some of our scholars may get hooked on research and consider an academic career. That’s how many of us came to pursue a pathway that combines teaching, patient care and research.”

Laura Bauza-Davila

Laura Bauza-Davila

Bauza-Davila is an ECU graduate with a BS in public health studies. She worked with faculty menotors Dr. Roopwant Kaur and Dr. Mark Moss on a project entitled, “Improving the Clinical Protocol for Optimal Caries Management-Based on Risk.”

Nguyen, from Hickory, earned a BS in biology in 2019 from UNC-Greensboro. He worked with faculty mentors Dr. Alex Gillone and Dr. Acela Martinez-Luna on a retrospective analysis of “Prescription of Opioids and Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs at a U.S. Dental School.”

The project’s objective was to look at the trend of prescriptions for these medications, potentially limiting the exposure of these medications to high-risk individuals and in return contributing to the overall fight against the opioid crisis.

“As a curious individual, I’ve always questioned the things around me,” Nguyen said. “Through research, I’m given the opportunity to dare to ask the complicated questions and seek answers. Research is essential in every field, even so in dentistry because there is always room to improve, and new things to discover. I chose ECU School of Dental Medicine because I found a place that believes in my potential and values, a place that I am confident will mold me into the dentist I’ve always dreamt of.”

Pendleton, from Rutherfordton, graduated in 2020 from UNC-Chapel Hill’s Honors College with a BS in biology and a BA in chemistry. He worked with faculty mentors Dr. Mahmoud Al-Dajani and Dr. Mark Moss on “Dental Needs and Patterns of Dental Service Utilization among Underserved Populations in North Carolina.”

The project focused on identifying how patient factors including payment type, demographics and dental need can influence the type of care patients receive.

Matthew Pendleton

“I enjoy research because it allows me to make my own mark on the large body of knowledge that informs dental practice,” Pendleton said. “I plan on practicing dentistry with the newest techniques and information available to me, which only come from careful research, in order to provide the best possible care. I am looking forward to working in the lab, and ultimately the clinic, the most, as I actually get to put all of the didactic information we learn from lectures into practice.”

Reason, from Wilson, graduated from ECU in 2019 with a BS in public health studies. He worked with faculty mentor Dr. Xiaoxi Cui on “CBCT Analysis of Vertical Soft Tissue Thickness before Dental Implant Placement and Its Relationship with Cortical Bone Thickness.”

The project involved measuring pre-implant cone beam CT images to determine if there was a relationship between cortical bone thickness and vertical soft tissue thickness.

“The Summer Scholars Research Program was the first time I had participated in formal research,” Reason said. “It was important for me to learn how research relates to dentistry and how to follow evidence-based dentistry in school and beyond. Although I did not have previous research experience, the program allowed me to learn the many attributes of conducting research.”

The students said the Summer Research Scholars Program provided them positive momentum to begin their SoDM careers.

“I am so excited to meet my classmates and begin this journey with them,” Reason said. “I know we have all worked so hard to get to this point, and being able to continue with our passion of helping others through dentistry is a dream come true.”

By Spaine Stephens