University of Utah Graduate Alex Piedra Discusses His Dental School Experience & Post-Graduation Plans

Posted by THE NEXTDDS on Fri, Jul 13, 2018 @ 09:07 AM

24058800_1378101282300794_8764131376291630063_nAt this time of the year, dental school graduates are prepping themselves for the professional dental world. One of those students is Alex Piedra, who recently completed his 4th year at the University of Utah School of Dentistry. In this interview with THE NEXTDDS, he discusses his dental school experience, his post graduation plans, and what he plans to contribute to the profession.

THE NEXTDDS: What does the field of dentistry mean to you?

AP: Dentistry is a field where you can really change a life in many ways. One way is helping a patient smile. Also, proper dentistry is a way to fight one of the biggest infections that we have in the mouth, which is dental caries. It’s incredibly important for dentists to combat that infection.

THE NEXTDDS: Explain the difference between “fixing” and “prevention.”

AP: Prevention is key. Upon graduating from dental school, I will be going to a pediatric dental residency. As a pediatric dentist, I want to help kids have a positive dental experience and show them the proper ways to brush their teeth and take care of their mouth so they do not develop caries later in life.

THE NEXTDDS: What did you enjoy the most about dental school?

AP: I simply loved working toward a profession that has the ability to change the lives of others. I also greatly enjoyed developing relationships with my fellow students, as well as with patients and faculty. I realized the world is smaller than we think and that we can really make a change in our patient’s lives.

THE NEXTDDS: Very understandable! What role did social media or educational sites play in your dental education?

AP: I feel that a lot of us were able to visit certain social media platforms to watch procedures, just to see how they were exactly executed. I’ve read online articles and listened to audiobooks to find out about the business aspect of dentistry. The digital aspect of dentistry has helped students in several ways.

THE NEXTDDS: Absolutely! How do you see yourself improving the patient experience?

AP: I would focus on creating an amazing environment for them. If I were to own a private practice, I would make sure my hygienists, assistants, and front desk manager are all motivated to create an environment that’s inviting and friendly. I want my patients to look forward to follow-up visits. I want to make it a special experience for every patient who walks in to my office.

THE NEXTDDS: Great idea! During your tenure as a student, did you take advantage of dental outreach opportunities? 

AP: Of course! I grew up in an environment in Washington where we had a core community and I remember not seeing a dentist or doctor as a child growing up. Our community helped me and my family a great deal during this time. Dental outreach became very important to me and I feel inclined to give back to the community through education or clinical work to those who cannot afford treatment. I plan to continue giving back once I complete my residency.

THE NEXTDDS: That’s very honorable of you. What key challenges did you face as a dental student?

AP: During my first and second years of school, I felt there was a lot of material to learn in a short amount of time, which was very overwhelming. Managing my time adequately and balancing my personal and school life was very challenging. I was in school from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM and would study from 6:00 PM until midnight, then wake up at 4:00 AM. It took a while for me to acclimate myself to that routine.

THE NEXTDDS: That’s definitely a challenge! What is your philosophy on how oral health relates to overall health?

AP: Oral health is the gateway to understanding your body’s overall health. There are a lot of research studies that link xerostomia, dental caries, and even cancer to poor oral health. Activity in the mouth in terms of poor oral health may be an early precursor or indicator of what is going on in the rest of the body.

THE NEXTDDS: What are your post-graduation plans?

AP: I plan to do a pediatric dental residency for 2 years. I hope to see a lot of children and give them the proper treatment they need, because they are our future. I’ll be speaking with them and figuring out how I may best serve them and give them the best oral health experience. I want to create an environment in which the kids look forward to returning for appointments and hopefully, they share their experience with others. Watching kids return one by one, over the years until they become adults with no cavities would be awesome!

THE NEXTDDS: It surely would be! What do you think you will contribute to the dentistry profession?

AP: I want to change the way we think about dentistry. Sometimes, I feel that we only focus on the teeth and oral cavity, but we need to remember that there is a person attached to those teeth. My goal is to constantly create a good experience for my patients. Also, I want other dentists to understand that every person in that chair has a life, goals, and aspirations as well, so we need to uplift them. I want every one of my patients, adult or child, to feel inspired when they leave that dental chair. We need to create that positive environment for them so they walk out with a smile.

THE NEXTDDS: What a great way to end this interview! Alex, thank you taking the time to speak with us and a special CONGRATULATIONS from all of us at THE NEXTDDS for completing dental school! We wish you much success in your future endeavors!


Tags: children, dentistry, outreach, graduate, children's health, dental caries, pediatric patients, patient trust, oral health, disease prevention, new dentists

VCU School of Dentistry Students Provide Primary Care to the Underserved in Jamaica

Posted by THE NEXTDDS on Wed, Dec 16, 2015 @ 01:00 PM



VCU School of Dentistry faculty and dental students at the Long Pond Clinic in Trelawny Parish, Jamaica.

For dental students, some learning experiences make a bigger difference than others. For Amy Reichert, Class of 2016 at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of Dentistry, the opportunity to provide care for the underserved population in Jamaica is especially powerful. Since 1986, VCU students have been going to Trelawny Parish in Jamaica and working out of a clinic that is adjacent to a sugar cane factory. These D4 students perform cleanings, extractions, restorations, and provide education for the local community, and the Jamaicans welcomed them warmly. “People would get so excited about making sure that their children would get looked at,” she said in a recent interview with THE NEXTDDS.

Every year, VCU Jamaica Project sends three waves of D4 students and dental hygiene students for one week stints to provide diagnostic and definitive care services under the direct guidance of preceptors. According to Reichert, the students rotate in their duties in the clinic. “We tried to rotate every few hours,” she said, to avoid fatigue and to broaden the experience. The demand for their care was high. “When do you say no? You can’t see everybody. All the patients were so appreciative,” she noted. Since the local population generally worked at the sugar cane plant, “we saw a lot of anterior caries, not so much the occlusal and buccal decay we see here in Richmond.”


Amy Reichert, 2016 DDS Candidate, of VCU School of Dentistry.

Besides the high demand for their services, the students faced challenges with technology as well, Reichert said. “We had no X-rays there. It made doing restorations much more difficult. Every tooth you opened up was completely bombed out, even if they didn’t look too bad initially. We ended up pulping and pulling a lot of teeth.”

Mick Pope, DDS, and a faculty coordinator for the annual visit, emphasized that the students pay their individual airfare and they go there to work. “It’s not a trip that you win. The program runs only because the students raise the money.” Students initially express interest at an organizational meeting in January or February, then they coordinate fundraising events to pay for food, supplies and housing. Every year one student takes the initiative to be the coordinator, and for this most recent trip that student was Reichert. She kept track of how involved students were, who participated in fundraisers, and who took on leadership roles.  The most involved students were invited to go.  The trips take place in late October and early November, a challenging time for fourth-year students to leave since it is considered prime interviewing season.

Remarked Pope, “We take nine or ten students each wave over three weeks, so between 24 and 28 go each year. Most years we have an overabundance of students who want to go.” Not every dental school makes such an experience available to their students. “I don’t know how many students [go to Jamaica] from purely academic programs here in the U.S.” The experience has been powerful for students, Pope noted. “Feedback from students after each Project routinely includes the comment, ‘that’s the best thing that I ever did in dental school.’”

Dental students performed tooth extractions and provided preventive care, restorative procedures, and oral hygiene education to the Trelawny clinic patients.

Reichert agrees. She found the opportunity to work closely with their preceptor, oral surgeon Dr. Greg Zoghby, was priceless. “Working with Dr. Zoghby was amazing. The little techniques I learned from him I will take with me for the rest of my career. I learned so many small techniques not just with extractions but also the anesthesia. Usually we do a lot of infiltrations in school, but he taught us how to do specific blocks and made sure we really understood the anatomy. A lot of us don’t get much experience with that in school.”

Over the 29-year history of the Jamaica trip, Pope says the school has developed many strong relationships with Jamaicans throughout Trelawny. “The clinic is in a sugar cane factory, set up to service their workforce.” The group stores their equipment in the clinic at the end of each Project, “and hopefully it will be there waiting for us next year,” he notes. When asked what the future holds, Pope says that they never really know. “This could always be the last year – we relay on the favors and willingness of our Jamaican friends to help us do this. We have no securities other than the on-going relationships we've established.” He fully expects that the effort will continue despite the challenges. “With 1,000 people being laid off [from the factory] just recently, they’re going to want and need our services next fall more than ever.”

Reichert also enjoyed the cultural exposure. “I’m really glad we had the opportunity to experience what it was like to be there day-to-day. We had a chance to see what it was like to actually be a Jamaican. The staff that we had in our houses were amazing. I’m a vegan, so cooking for me was more of a challenge. Gordon, our cook, went above and beyond. He made sure I was taken care of every night.”

Was there one especially memorable patient? Reichert shared this case. “There was this one lady…probably in her 60s, and I was taking out the rest of her teeth. She was nothing but smiles and gave me the biggest hug and told me she loved me. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that good after seeing a patient.” She hopes to continue doing outreach care after she finishes her endodontics residency.

More information on the VCU trip to Jamaica can be found at their “unofficial” website. On behalf of all at THE NEXTDDS, we thank the VCU School of Dentistry team for sharing this amazing adventure.

Tags: dental students, VCU School of Dentistry, outreach, clinic

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