Dental student research trio prevails
Second-year dental students Heena Gupta, Ines Quintanilla and Trang Huynh — now dubbed the “three musketeers”— overcame more than a few obstacles to research a new method for preventing tooth decay.
Their experience culminated March 19 to 22, when they attended the American Association for Dental Research annual meeting to share their findings along with 29 other students from Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry.
The trio’s efforts trace back to spring 2013, when Dr. Amal Noureldin, assistant professor in public health sciences, announced she had three slots open to students interested in summer research. The project hinged on whether the use of two applications of fluoride in tandem with carbon dioxide lasers is effective in the prevention and treatment of tooth decay. Using lasers is common in the dental world for soft-tissue surgery, says Noureldin, but using it in a very low intensity in combination with fluoride varnish is a novel concept.
“I wanted to see the feasibility of using this for our community clinics and sealant programs,” says Noureldin. “If we could get the best results in caries prevention that would be great.”
The topic was separated into three components: Quintanilla and Gupta were to explore the method’s effectiveness at prevention and treatment, respectively, and Huynh would compare two types of fluoride for their ability to restore enamel and slow the progression of cavities.
Preparation for the experiment was smooth. By June, the painstaking process of collecting extracted teeth was complete. The laser had been calibrated and the students trained on how to use it. Then — as is often the case with research — the unexpected occurred.
First the laser malfunctioned.
“With this delay there was no way we were going to finish on time,” Quintanilla says. By the time the laser repairs were completed in late August, classes had already begun, and the students still had weeks’ worth of work, including several pH scale cycles, which required one of them to be at the school every day, sometimes at odd hours.
When the computer that housed the group’s first round of results crashed, causing them to lose all of their data, they were undeterred.
“It was definitely a team effort those last three weeks,” says Gupta, of the group’s willingness to alternate holidays and eventually nights and weekends well into the academic year.
Quintanilla attributes the group’s cohesion to the fact that they not only finished the project but achieved noteworthy results in the process. The double fluoride application-laser sequence was found to be effective in cavity prevention by improving the enamel’s resistance to acid attacks. On the treatment front, the method not only halted progression of cavities, it hardened the telltale white spot lesions indicative of caries.
The relevance of the findings was not lost on Gupta, Huynh, Quintanilla or the hundreds of conference attendees who discussed the research with the students during their poster presentations at AADR.
“Being about cavity prevention and treatment, it was definitely relevant to practitioners out there,” says Quintanilla. “Everything worked out. We couldn’t have asked for a better experience or a better team.”