I Have an Idea . . .

By Kathleen Barrows

Some organizations rely on leadership at the top to take the calculated risks that innovation requires. But here at University of Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, it’s not only the deans and faculty members who are coming up with some great ideas. As former Associated Student Body President, Dr. Ryan Wilgus ’10, points out, we have “a creative innovative student body” that he’s proud to have been a part of.

Students and residents are devoting their time, passion and talent to projects that often go unnoticed. They are setting up an alumni/student mentor program, spearheading dental outreach efforts around the world and conducting groundbreaking research that will influence the practice of dentistry for years to come. Here are just a few of their stories.

On the Cutting Edge in Research

“Tissue repair by regeneration is one of the most rapidly advancing research fields relevant to dentistry today,” according to Dr. Miroslav Tolar, director of the dental school’s new state-of-the-art Stem Cell and Tissue Engineering Clinical Facility (SCTECF), which opened its doors earlier this year. And Class of 2011 orthodontic resident Dr. Nicholas Bauter ‘04 is excited to be part of it. As he puts it, “The Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry is tapping into a whole new world.”

Regenerative dentistry, relatively new dental field which originally started in Japan, involves using adult stem cells of the patient to re-grow and replace damaged tissues and bone in the mouth and jaws.

Bauter has been joined by Drs. Waleed Soliman ‘09 Ortho, current orthodontic residents Drs. Manal Abu Al-Melh ’10 and Justin Hannon ’09, as well as four enthusiastic second-year students—Eric Baker, Timothy Betita, Preston Hansen and Lance Keyes. All want to specialize in oral and maxillofacial surgery and anticipate the significant role that regenerative dentistry will play in their future work.

After spending a year as a fellow in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, where he co-published an article in the Journal of the Massachusetts Dental Society, Bauter decided to return to the dental school to pursue an MSD in orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics. It was his research with Dr. Marie Tolarova, professor of orthodontics, on the causes of cleft palate, that got him working with Dr. Tolar. His thesis project on dental pulp stem cells “snowballed” into this project.

Bauter hasn’t just given of his time and research expertise—he’s given a part of himself too. “I had bone marrow taken out of my hip bone” for research, he explains—what some might call going above and beyond the call of duty.

He recognizes the challenges. Due to the need for a totally sterile, bacteria-free environment for this kind of research, it’s a very expensive endeavor. But he also knows he’s on to something big. “We are just at the tip of the iceberg in this kind of research, on the cusp. There are so many things we don’t know, and so many things we don’t even know we don’t know.” But with innovative minds like Bauter’s, the dental school will continue to be at the forefront of these efforts.

[pullquote]When Young graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont, she used the alumni list to call up and ask advice of graduates.[/pullquote]

Alumni/Student Mentor Program

The idea for a mentorship program was nothing new to Drs. Ryan Wilgus ’10 and Lauren Young ’10, former Class of 2010 vice president and student representative on the Alumni Association’s board of directors. When Young graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont, she used the alumni list to call up and ask advice of graduates. And through his best friend, Wilgus knew that every incoming freshman at Brown University was paired with an alumnus. “It should be easy to create a mentor program at the dental school,” thought Wilgus, “since we’re all majoring in the same thing.”

Now, thanks to the efforts of Young and Wilgus, the dental school alumni/student mentor program is almost ready to launch, with a target date of July 2011. The long-term goal is to connect alumni to students not just at the dental school, but also after graduation. Those are the key years when students need guidance on the pitfalls to avoid, how to get a loan or buy a practice, and or even how to deal with poor employee relations. And, as Young points out, there are many directions to go in: specialization, private practice, public health, research, teaching and organized dentistry.

Though the third-year practice management and jurisprudence courses are valuable, they’re not enough. “Students get hands-on experience with teeth in the lab courses and then go to the clinic and practice on patients,” points out Wilgus. “But there is nowhere to ‘practice’ your management skills.” And as someone who has a brother who is a dentist, he feels that it’s important for all students to have a mentor, whether they come from a dental family or not.

Students will be matched with their mentors by factors such as geography, specialization and demographics, and even number of years in practice. And for Young, gender is an important factor as well. “I’d love to have a female mentor with a family, so that I can work out the work-family balance,” she admits. Another issue is respecting the time commitments of the busy dentists offering to be mentors.

Young and Wilgus made a presentation at the Alumni Meeting weekend in March and are now conducting an online demographic survey to explore the issue. Already, 60-70 alumni have expressed interest in becoming mentors.

Wilgus is confident that alumni will come through. “We have a powerhouse Alumni Association and a creative, innovative student body. It’s a win-win for both groups. It’s a way to reconnect the alumni back to the school and give them direct contact with the students. And it’s free!”

For more information about the program, contact Joanne Fox at jfox@pacific.edu.

[pullquote]As Wilson explains,
“They literally have nothing yet they are the happiest people I know.”[/pullquote]

International Volunteer Efforts

Fiji Outreach Trip

“Imagine an entire village coming to your dental clinic in five days.” That’s how recent graduate Dr. Jack Gorman ’10, describes the challenge of his recent trip to Fiji with 31 other students, faculty and alumni who volunteered their dental services during spring break at a clinic in the small village of Moala.

The Fiji trip has been a dental school tradition for seven years now, thanks to the early efforts of Dr. Karl Brose ‘72, who started this outreach effort. This year, the team provided $344,650 worth of dental treatment to more than 400 patients. And after visits this year headed by Dr. Allen Wong ’86, director of the Special Care Clinic, to a local dental school—the Fiji School of Medicine—and the local Rotary Club, there’s a good chance that some of the Fijian dental students and faculty will soon be collaborating.

For both Gorman and his Class of 2010 colleagues Jessi Wilson, Judy Chau and Joyce Kahng, planning the logistics was almost as daunting as the trip itself. The five-day effort took more than six months of planning—reserving hotels, working with travel agents, e-mailing people they’d never met or talked to halfway across the globe and ordering supplies, everything from scrubs to battery-operated hand pieces. The project depends totally on donations, with students paying their own way for the trip and supplies, so raising money involved yet another feat.

Despite the challenges, both Wilson and Gorman describe it as the best experience of their lives. They were overwhelmed by the gratitude and hospitality of the Fijian people and their culture. As Wilson explains, “They literally have nothing yet they are the happiest people I know.” Even a woman who had just had her last six teeth extracted hugged her in appreciation.

The trip was not only personally transforming for Wilson, but changed the way she goes about dentistry. “It teaches you about going back to basics, and making the best and most of what you have….We had one chair and we were kneeling on the ground with someone holding a flashlight to do extractions.”

Gorman, who had never traveled abroad before, will always remember the farewell ceremony offered by the Fijians. It was a giant party in the rain, with kids dancing, guitar music, the distribution of flowers and a symbolic ritual sharing of a kava root-based drink. “I was talking to an older gentleman who asked, ‘Will you please bring me back some shoes next year?’”

Though he is uncertain about his future other than his hopes to do community service as a general dentist, one thing Gorman is sure of is his plans to return annually to Fiji and next year, in addition to supplies, he’ll be taking along a pair of shoes.

Jamaica Trip

Since 2002, about 200 volunteers from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom—including dental and non-dental professionals—have traveled to Jamaica each year to help close to 15,000 people in what is the world’s largest humanitarian dental project. But it wasn’t until last year—thanks to the idea of dental students Sirish Makan and his friend Sue Min Mak, a previous volunteer in the program—that Dugoni School dental students became part of Great Shape! Inc.’s 1000 Smiles effort.

Makan and Mak enlisted additional colleagues from the Class of 2011—John Miller, John Nguyen and Diane Vo—to join them for the week-long mission in the fall of 2009, and Makan is now preparing for this year’s fall trip.

Still new to patient care, Makan wasn’t used to doing much more than cleanings, but the trip to Jamaica changed all that. There is only one dentist for every 80,000 people there and the clinic where the group worked, under the supervision of a licensed dentist, is only open two weeks a year. Some people waited in line for two days to receive treatment. On the few occasions he could do a composite restoration rather than the usual extraction, he loved seeing the smiles of his patients when they saw the results in the mirror.

Makan is happy about his classmates’ enthusiastic support for the project.

“I think at least 90% of the students want to participate in international missions in some way,” he estimates. In a single year, the project has grown from five students to a planned participation of 28 for this year’s fall visit with another 28 on the waiting list. He’s trying to organize the trip so that participants have some experience treating the patients quickly and effectively while still learning.

And he’s proud that students are essentially doing it on their own, while various financial and legal hurdles are being worked through. The group raised money and, in addition, were supported by alumni like Dr. Joshua Solomon ‘01 who donated $2,000 and will himself participate in the upcoming trip.

Makan, who will be doing a residency in oral surgery next year, hopes to return to Jamaica. In the meantime, he says, “I’m setting up the program in a way that everything is ready for someone else to take over.”