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THE NEXTDDS Student Ambassador Blogs

The Benefits of Being a Dental School Commuter

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As a student of Rutgers School of Dental Medicine, I am offered living accommodations a mere 100 yards from the front door of the dental school. The allure of such a situation is enticing, but instead, I have spent the last two years commuting about 40 minutes to and from school. After spending a considerable portion of my day in a car over these past two challenging academic years, I would recommend it to anyone considering dental school.



Going to school in Newark, NJ, I have truly grown accustomed to the concrete jungle. Other than a small courtyard, my school environment can only be described as very… grey. Living at home opens the opportunity to spend time amongst nature. Thanks to my parents, I live in a part of the state that is surrounded by green. As someone who is passionate about the environment, it has been an absolute blessing to leave the dreariness of the city each day. My mental wellbeing is rejuvenated whenever I return home.


No matter where you end up going to dental school, the reality is that there is an incredible amount of debt for any student.  An often-overlooked aspect, however, is the cost of everyday living. In addition to rent, the expenses of food, entertainment, laundry, and school supplies add up quickly. If given the opportunity to commute to school from a short distance away, I encourage anyone to jump at it. Living with your parents, while not so cool on paper, will be worth it in the long run. This situation is obviously not available to everyone, but it’s a fantastic way to cut down on the exponential costs of dental school.


Another aspect of commuting that has become an important aspect of my daily routine is the free time I am forced to take whenever I am in the car. “Dental school guilt” is an incredible phenomenon that students often feel when they are enjoying free time but remember they should probably be studying for something. I value my life and therefore do not study and drive! Instead, I catch up on music, make phone calls to loved ones, and enjoy the quiet parts of my day. I can reflect upon a rough time I had in preclinic or recognize something positive I accomplished during the day. Time is a commodity that’s hard to come by in school, and commuting affords a student valuable time that might otherwise be spent in less advantageous ways.


When I was applying to dental school, many of my mentors said that dental schools in “worse” geographic areas are often best because of access to a large patient pool. If given the chance, I would suggest that a dental student take advantage of the best of both worlds—access to patients and the opportunity to commute from nicer areas. Often, being outside an urban environment is markedly cheaper, and the time spent away from other students and school work is much needed.

Innovation and the Internet

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We want to be creative as individuals and dental professionals. We want our organizations to be innovative. We want to see breakthroughs in science and technology. How can we create good ideas? Where do we find them?


I believe the answer lies in our environment. I have found that ideas often don’t arise at a “eureka” moment of great insight. In fact, the best ideas take a long time to evolve—lying dormant in the back of our minds, taking years to mature and become tangible. The history of innovation suggests that the best ideas arise from the collision of many mature, tangible thoughts—forming something bigger than themselves. We don’t always have the full vision of what we want to create but, over time, with trial and error and a long incubation, these thoughts can manifest to be a leap in the right direction.


It is when many such leaps occur in synchrony that a breakthrough happens. We must create systems and centers where such thoughts can come together and create something larger than the sum of their parts. History has shown that these spaces foster the growth of ideas, such as the coffee houses during the Age of Enlightenment. These were spaces where ideas could mingle and take on new forms.


This calls into question the internet: our modern day “environment” and ”space” to share ideas. It is apparent that we are moving away from deep, focused, contemplative states of mind into a faster-paced, multi-tasking way of life. Is this overwhelmingly connected lifestyle going to lead to less complex thought? Is this going to lead to less innovation? I think not.


The historical increase in connectivity, from Alexander Graham Bell to Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, has been a key driver of scientific and technological innovation. Simply put, more connectivity has led to more innovation. Our ability to reach out and exchange ideas with other people and borrow ideas from others has been the primary engine of creativity in this world. We may live in a more distracted world, checking Facebook and Instagram constantly, however this is how we connect with people. This is how we find missing pieces to our puzzles. This is how we create breakthroughs.

Schedule Change for Hydrocodone Drugs

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Vicodin, one of the most popular and routinely prescribed analgesic drugs in dentistry, has become a little tougher to acquire. In a recent rule change published by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) , hydrocodone combination product (HCP) drugs, including popularly prescribed drugs Vicodin and Norco, have been reassigned from Schedule III to the more restrictive Schedule II.

Hydrocodone combination product drugs, which include the potent semi-synthetic opioid analgesic hydrocodone administered in combination with acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol), are the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States, according to an article published by the American Academy of Family Practitioners . These drugs have long been thought and used by practitioners as the first line of defense against pain, hence their popularity among physicians. However, these drugs also have a very high potential for addiction, abuse, and diversion, as compared to the lesser analgesics ibuprofen or acetaminophen .

In response to a frightening rise in prescription drug overdoses related to HCPs, the FDA has tightened regulations for these drugs with a new rule that took effect on October 6th, 2014. While these drugs used to be obtained under Schedule III rules, meaning that prescriptions could be phoned and faxed in to a pharmacy without an office visit, the stricter schedule II rules will now apply. Schedule II drugs, which are classified as drugs with the highest potential for abuse, require that patients must visit their doctor in person to receive a prescription, and no refills can be given (meaning that a new prescription must be written out for each disbursement of drugs). This has been done in hopes that creating more safeguards to HCP drugs will help prevent their over-prescription and decrease the number of drugs abused and diverted from their prescribed purpose.

So what does this mean for us as dentists? In theory, not much should change. The most prudent course of action has always been to give a thorough examination before prescribing any medications, including pain medication. In fact, in many cases the prescription of HCP drugs may not even be necessary. A Cochrane review showed that a combination of ibuprofen and acetaminophen at over-the-counter doses was more effective at reducing pain than opiate-containing drugs . It should then be our goal as health professionals to relay this information to patients in order to help reduce the amount of (in many cases, needlessly prescribed) HCP drugs in circulation. In any case, the potential public health benefits of this rule change will undoubtedly outweigh any potential drawbacks. [RG4]Here too a reference is necessary for this claim. You can footnote all three at the end of this excellent blog.


Summer Dental Volunteering

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The last blog post that I wrote was about the ethics of dental volunteering. At the time, I may have been on the side that says that most of these dental volunteering programs abroad are unethical simply for the fact that there are no long-term solutions in place in case one of the patients needs follow up.  Well, over the summer and fall of this past year, I went to Africa with a small nonprofit organization and experienced firsthand what it was like to treat and give care to some people who don’t regularly or rarely ever get it. This experience changed my thinking about how I felt about dental volunteering programs.

Over the summer of 2016, I decided to go to some small villages in Cameroon called Nkookomb and Ibong. Both of those villages are small and are within 20 miles of each other. They have a combined population of about 1000 people. There’s only one medical center(Presbyterian medical center) within a fifty mile radius. This medical center has no doctors. A nurse is the one who oversees everything in the village. As far as dentists go, there is only one dentist or dental center within a 150 mile radius. So obviously dental care is sorely needed. I volunteered with a small not for profit organization to teach the nurse at the medical center, how to teach her patients about the importance of oral health. Donated some toothbrushes and toothpastes and taught them how to brush and floss.

Overall, the experience was one of the best experiences that I have ever had. The reason my mind was changed about the whole ethical issues of dental volunteering, is because I noticed that all the people living in this area didn’t have a single toothbrush or anything. I asked them how they usually took care of their oral care, the majority replied that they never brush or had any dental care. They don’t believe dental health is important. The few who said they brush occasionally, said they used a stick and salt to brush their teeth. I asked them why they use salt and why not use toothpaste? The answer they gave me was that toothpaste is too expensive and they have other issues that could be resolved with their money and the reason they use salt is because it is grainy enough to brush or scratch the surface of the teeth. What I realized was that as much as I didn’t think it was ethical to do any dentistry work on a person if they don’t have a way to follow up in case of emergency, it’s better to at least do something to take care of their immediate needs. As long as it meets the standard of care that is expected of us dentists, I think it is good to help people who need dental care. 

Recommending Products to Patients

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Over the past year in clinic, there have been several instances when I was asked by patients which toothpaste, toothbrush, or dental gizmo I would recommend. At first, I was caught off guard. I, myself a dental student, don’t even know what toothpaste I’m using half of the time (I usually use whatever is at home or on sale). Over time, these questions became more common and required me to have a better answer for my patients. Pre-clinic and classes do an adequate job of preparing us for clinic, but some parts, like patient recommendations, are left out.


The most common question I have been asked has been the use of a power toothbrush versus a manual one, followed by the use of an automated flosser over traditional flossing. Having used only a manual toothbrush and traditional floss, I never knew how to answer these questions. I usually went one of two ways: Either share my oral hygiene routine with the patient or repeat what I have heard other student dentists tell their patients.


Recently, Waterpik and Sonicare both conducted lunch and learns at Midwestern University School of Dentistry. This was a great opportunity to learn about the two products, and to be more aware of all the different dental products available to us. As dental students, we have ample resources to help guide us in performing clinical procedures. In this case, I realized that lunch and learns conducted by ethical manufacturers present valuable opportunities to learn about other important parts of our lives as dental caregivers. There are also ample resources available online, such as evidence-based articles, reviews, and websites such as THENEXTDDS, to support us as future practitioners.


Throughout our career, we will face many challenges. It’s important to realize that we have multiple resources available to supplement our classroom learning and put to use chairside. The more we use these resources and become better educated on dental products, consumables, and at-home treatments, the more knowledgeable we then become to suggest products that are tailor-made for each patient. 

Lighting the Fire for Future Dentists

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    I am proud to be a future dentist. I love the field that I have chosen, and cannot wait to work alongside the many amazing men and woman currently practicing dentistry around the world. Knowing that I am about to join a strong, smart, well-respected profession inspires me to work harder and continue to bring honor to the field. Unfortunately, not all clinicians contribute fully toward the growth of the profession, and I believe we should do our best to fix this. By building excitement for the field of dentistry and contributing to dental education, I think we can recruit the best students and continue to expand the dental field in a positive way.


    One way we can build excitement for our scope of practice is by hosting simulation days at colleges that help students see what goes on in a dental school. These can give students hands-on experience that they may otherwise never encounter. Almost all students that are interested in dentistry shadow at operating dental offices, but very few get the chance to actually operate a handpiece before they enter school. During a “simulation clinic day,” prospective students can get the chance to truly be a dental student for the day. They could hear advice from current students, ask questions, and get acquainted with a school they may attend in the future. These events can really inspire students and give them something to strive for throughout their undergraduate careers.


    Along with simulation days, I feel that it is very important for current practicing dentists to promote excitement toward their field. By venturing out into schools and raising awareness for dental health, we can get students thinking about the impact they can have as a future dentist. Another way we can promote our profession is by attending events such as career fairs and other health-related symposiums. Involvement in our communities and schools are great ways to raise interest in dentistry.


    Although it is not widely promoted, I should stress the impact you can have by contributing to dental education. We can have first-hand involvement in molding and shaping the future of our profession. This may be the best way to ensure that we continue to have wonderful clinicians practicing and also create passion for the field. I know I have gained so much love and excitement for my future job by engaging in conversations; learning from and observing my outstanding faculty. By sharing your love for dentistry with current dental students, you can really have an impact on how they practice in the future.


    There are so many ways we can share our love of dentistry with the world, and I believe that in order to keep this profession great we should pass our knowledge along to those after us. Supporting and participating in community events, putting on simulation days, and getting involved in dental education are just a few ways we can keep this passion for dentistry growing.