My research on dental material was a great experience that connected my academic background with current dental practice and research. I was excited to immerse in various settings, including dissection, dental clinic and chemistry lab. In doing so, I was able to gain hands on experience of preparing dental materials and freshly collected animal sample. Other than the things that I learned and skills I gained; the resulting data could potentially benefit the dental care providers and patients on their setting of a cost-effective treatment plan.
The research began with the most special part: the cow head. After calling all the meat shops near Walla Walla, I was able to get a hold of a butcher that donated the head of a freshly slaughtered two years old cow. Although expecting something bloody, I was still shocked peeking into the bucket that has the head. It was skinned and had all the facial muscles exposed, completely different from the clean and orderly dissection samples that I am used to. A piece of grass was sticking out of its mouth and grinded food was stuck in between the teeth, unveiling a corner of how the animal once lived. In the next few weeks, I spent most of my time on collecting its teeth sample. I went through the whole process from extracting all its teeth, removing the nerves, to grinding them down to a consistent 1cm x 2cm slab. The cow head turned into six little white shells of dentin samples sitting quietly in an incubator. To simulate biological condition, they are going to be incubated at body temperature for the rest of the four months research period. That was my first real world dissection experience, much messier but more fascinating and affection evoking than the ones I’ve been through.
In that incubator, there are also twenty-four slabs of the same size. They were made from four kinds of dental restorative materials. I used to excitedly watch them being put into patient’s mouth in my shadowing. But this time I get to shape them myself. Although looking very similar, the three tooth colored materials have very different consistency and require not completely different manipulation, some of them are very tricky. Take Fuji II LC for example. The material needs to be mixed in a mixer and then applied to the patient in a short amount of time, or it will be set up and hard to shape. Because of the time contingency, I was collaborating with a dental assistant. We used four tubes of material for each sample, and the shaping was done in less than 1 minutes. My sample only needed to be shaped into a rectangle. In a clinical setting however, the dentist needs to shape it according to the tooth and prevent leakage and air bubbles, the amount of skill and collaboration required is surprising. Similarly, the amalgam material also requires mixing and has a time contingency. With an even shorter hardening time and the trend to crack, I had to develop my own technique. After cracking several samples, I learned how to be the most time efficient and use the right pressing pressure to prevent cracking but still bind the samples. By the end of preparing the twenty four samples, I have gotten very familiar with the manipulation techniques of the often used dental materials. I was able to gain the experience that is very hard for undergraduates to access and will certainly help my future studies and career. Doing hands on work really put me in a position to confront the decision making, collaboration and leadership part of dentistry. It is an important bridge that connects my studying and future career.
Experiences like Scarlett He’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Mitzy Rodriguez