“Low key fire” is how some University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) CURE Scholars described the sports-themed mouthguard they designed with the help of University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD) students during a virtual Oral Health Promotion Day on March 2. Depending on your generation, the phrase means “hot” or “cool.” Either way, it’s a good thing.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Oral Health Promotion Day was a full day of in-person learning at UMSOD. The annual day, also known as Sealant Saturday, gave the CURE Scholars and their siblings an opportunity to receive preventative dental care from dental hygiene students who would perform oral exams and place dental sealants on their teeth. These sealants help prevent tooth decay for up to 15 years.
The scholars also got to participate in hands-on activities in the dental school labs. With the help of UMSOD students, the scholars used real dentistry tools to carve a tooth mold out of a bar of soap. They also learned how to suture oral wounds by practicing on a hot dog.
(Watch a video of Oral Health Promotion Day 2020.)
This year, the scholars were still able to connect with and learn from UMSOD students but did so virtually. Even though it looked a little different from the annual in-person programming, the scholars were engaged and excited to learn more about oral health.
Calling the scholars an “impressive group,” UMSOD Dean Mark A. Reynolds, DDS, PhD, MA, kicked off the afternoon with remarks to the students. “When I look at the UMB CURE Scholars, I know that I’m seeing a group of students who are talented, committed, and perhaps most of all eager to learn,” he said.
Kathryn Pawlak, DDS ’19, knows firsthand how eager CURE Scholars are to learn new skills. She has served as a CURE mentor since her days as an UMSOD student. Pawlak joined the scholars via Zoom from Buffalo, N.Y., where she is completing a residency in pediatric dentistry, to lead the afternoon of learning and fun.
TaShara Bailey, PhD, MA, director of UMB CURE STEM curriculum and programs, was grateful to Pawlak and all of the UMSOD volunteers who made the program a success. “It just shows their dedication and commitment to reach back to connect with the scholars to provide this bridge to the discipline of dentistry,” she said.
In fact, several scholars from different cohorts have expressed a desire to pursue a dental career as a result of the partnership between UMB CURE and UMSOD. “It’s these experiences into the profession, especially the health professions that shape our scholars and give them the knowledge they need to have going forward,” Bailey said.
Pawlak, who designed the day’s curriculum, gave a detailed presentation to help scholars identify dental trauma commonly found in sports, interpret X-rays and make a clinical diagnosis, and identify different types of commonly used mouthguards. After the half-hour lecture, the scholars were put to the test.
Split into four breakout rooms with UMSOD student leaders, the Scholars were asked to solve a patient case, conduct basic research, and design a Baltimore-themed mouthguard. In addition to allowing scholars to put their new knowledge to use, the breakout rooms provided the opportunity to ask dental students about career opportunities and the realities of dental school.
A highlight of the afternoon came when the groups reconvened to share their mouthguard designs. A team spokesperson presented the sports-themed designs that included logos from the Orioles, Ravens, Patriots, Jets, and Cubs — no team was off limits. There was even a Bugatti-themed mouthguard. When asked why his team incorporated a Bugatti into the design, scholar Jibril Sorrell replied without hesitation, “Because it’s one of the greatest cars in the world and our mouthguards are the greatest in the world.”
The presentations, which encouraged scholars to advocate for themselves and share their work, were an important part of the activity, according to Bailey. “We try to provide these opportunities,” she said, “and when they take advantage of that and do it in a public setting online, that to me is a win.”
Oral Health Promotion Day is just one of many learning opportunities put on by the UMB CURE Scholars Program, a nationally recognized pilot mentoring program funded by the National Cancer Institute’s Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences (CURE), which prepares sixth- to 12th-grade students in Baltimore for competitive, lucrative, and rewarding research and health care careers at UMB and other health institutions.