USC University of Southern California

Dental Hygiene Students Showcase Science Prowess

Several Dental Hygiene Students at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC shared their research talents at the American Dental Hygienists’ Association Annual Session in Las Vegas, Nev.

Risa Regalado and Kristen Wong, members of the Dental Hygiene class of 2011, won second place in the Research Table Clinic Competition with their project, “The Cherry on Top of Scaling and Root Planing:  The Added Benefits of Bacteremia”. Karen Gal, Benjamin Pinto, Natalia Pinto, and Arieanne Santos, also members of the DH class of 2011, took fourth place with their project, “Earth’s New Treatment”.

This impressive performance was the students’ first time ever taking part in a table clinic competition, which involves an extensive review of the scientific literature about a certain topic, assembly of a poster and informative handout, and presentation of the information to judges.

For their presentation, Regalado and Wong investigated the bacteremia — the presence of bacteria in the bloodstream — of patients following dental hygiene procedures and the possible benefits of such bacterial exposure.

In healthy patients, the bacteria introduced to the bloodstream during scaling and root planing procedures appears to induce the immune system to produce beneficial antibodies that can fight periodontal pathogens, Wong said. More information about this process could give clinicians more tools for the battle against periodontal disease, including the possibility of a vaccine against periodontal disease.

“A lot of people who read about our project had never thought about this concept in relation to dental hygiene,” she said. “It was a real ‘aha!’ moment for some.”

“Earth’s New Treatment” also generated a lot of attention and surprise, said Natalia Pinto. Her group investigated the ability of sea salt solutions to treat and prevent periodontitis; much of the source information came form the work of Ostrow School of Dentistry researcher Hessam Nowzari, director of the Advanced Periodontics Program.

“We have the ultimate resource here at the School,” Pinto said of Nowzari. “You can see how passionate he is about his work; he helped us so much.”

Pinto said that the results were striking. Out of a group of 600 homeless children in the Phillipines, 74 percent of whom had periodontitis at the start of the study, not one had active periodontitis after a year of using a simple routine of applying a sea salt solution to the gums.

“It’s a very cheap, nonsurgical remedy, and it could especially be very good for the third world,” Pinto said.

She added that several attendees during the competition were eager to take the group’s information back to their own schools of dental hygiene and share it with colleagues.

“A lot of people had never heard about using sea salt for this; it’s very inspiring to see that our research did so much for other people,” Pinto said.

Regalado said the process of completing the table clinic project was a very eye-opening experience.

“Before, searching through research literature was kind of daunting for me, but now it’s second nature,” she said. “Now, if a patient asks a question, I can look it up myself and tell them, ‘this is what the research shows’.”

As future dental hygienists who plan on entering private practice after graduation, Wong and Regalado feel that their experience with this type of scientific investigation will give them valuable skills for their career.

“We as clinicians need to understand the process of bacteremia and be able to educate our patients about this,” Wong said.

All of the students thanked their project advisor, Assistant Professor of Clinical Dentistry Karen Lem, and Dental Hygiene Program Chair Diane Melrose for their insight on the table clinic process.

“We definitely had an advantage being here at USC and hearing from our faculty members,” Regalado said. “A lot of inspiration came from the research faculty here.”

“We’re definitely part of a school that’s on the forefront of technology,” Wong added.