Finding the evidence in ‘evidence-based practice’

The Summer Student Research Program gives dentistry students a chance to participate directly in the science that informs their clinical work

By Crystal Mackay, MA’05

Research dayThe best way for dentistry students to understand what it means to practise evidence-based dentistry, is to be directly involved in finding that evidence. Being exposed to research early on in their careers helps students develop important critical-thinking skills vital to the practice.

That’s where the Summer Student Research Program comes in.

Each year, when their classmates have packed up their dental kits and gone home for the summer, a select group of students are working away on answering important research questions. These students are given the opportunity to contribute to clinical and basic science research under the supervision of faculty members at the School. They cap off their experience by presenting their work as part of Dentistry’s annual Research Day.

“Our profession is based on science, so the science tells us why and how we do what we do and gives us the bedrock of clinical practice,” said Dr. Stephen Ferrier, program coordinator of the Summer Student Research Program. “To have the experience of where that science comes from really equips the dentist to be ahead of the game and have critical-thinking skills when it comes to new developments in dentistry.”

Guessy Wang, fourth-year student at Schulich Dentistry, spent this past summer carefully studying patient charts. She was exploring outcomes for patients with implants and the risk factors involved in those outcomes. Her work earned her one of the top three awards at Research Day and she will be able to travel to the 2017 Dental Student Research Conference in Maryland to present her work as part of that award.

“I was especially interested in this project because it has an important impact on what we provide to the patient directly and how we improve our practice,” she said. “It was very important to me to be able to contribute to the field in that way.”

Research dayNot all research as part of the program takes place in the clinic. David Feere’s research took place outside of the dentist’s chair completely. Working at the lab bench alongside basic science faculty at the School, the third-year student looked at fibroblasts found in the gingival or gum tissue and their response to healing. Because there is no scarring in the gingiva, his work looked at the gene expression in these fibroblasts compared to other fibroblasts in the body to understand why scarring doesn’t occur in the oral cavity but does elsewhere.

“I think research changes your work as a dentist,” he said. “Being involved in coming up with a research problem and finding ways to solve it allows us to think about things differently.”

Once he sets up his practice as a dentist, he hopes to be able to continue his research.

“Research gets me excited because of the possibility of finding new or novel things that may influence the way we understand the world,” he said. “And you never know when you are going to stumble upon something that is really meaningful.”

This is music to the ears of Dr. Harvey Goldberg, assistant director of Research at Schulich Dentistry, who says part of the program’s goal is to encourage students to consider careers in oral health research.

“If even a small portion of the students who come through the program develop a passion for research, it will be a huge asset to the profession,” said Dr. Goldberg.

The program’s popularity has grown rapidly since 2011, essentially tripling in size to the current 15 funded student projects this year. The program is funded by the School and generous donations from various sponsors, including the Ontario Dental Association.

2016 Dentistry Summer Research Program

Farah Abu Sharkh, Class of 2018
Supervised by Timothy Wilson, PhD, and Dr. Khadry Galil

Kim Beaucage, Class of 2018
Supervised by Dr. Jeff Dixon, Cheryl Seguin, PhD and David Holdsworth, PhD

Jennifer Branch, Class of 2018
Supervised by Andrew Leask, PhD

David Feere, Class of 2018
Supervised by Andrew Leask, PhD

Erik Holm, Class of 2018
Supervised by David Holdsworth, PhD, and Amin Rizkalla, PhD

Sari Johnston, Class of 2019
Supervised by Drs. Michael Shimizu and Ali Tassi

Jordan Khankhet, Class of 2018
Supervised by Dr. Ali Tassi

Shawna Kim, Class of 2019
Supervised by Douglas Hamilton, PhD

Carissa Menant Tay, Class of 2019
Supervised by Douglas Hamilto, PhD

Yuliya Mulyar, Class of 2017
Supervised by Dr. Walter Siqueira

Imad Siddique, Class of 2019
Supervised by Drs. Maria Jacinta and Gildo Santos

Leah van Draanen, Class of 2018
Supervised by Dr. Christina McCord

Guessy Wang, Class of 2017
Supervised by Drs. Harinder Sandhu and Richard Bohay, and Yara Hosein, PhD

Allen Xian, Class of 2018
Supervised by Dr. Les Kalman

Andrei Zaharia, Class of 2019
Supervised by Amin Rizkalla, PhD, and Dr. Jeff Dixon