Allowing COVID-19 to derail their summer research wasn’t an option. Instead, these dental students and their mentors turned the tables on the new coronavirus and made it their research focus.
Students Andrea Carrizales and Jordan Chen delved into COVID-related public health issues, procuring useful data for the dental community. As part of Texas Retains and Recruits, a four-year grant that includes student stipends for summer research, this group of four summer researchers was embedded in the pre-existing Predoctoral Student Research Program offered through Texas A&M College of Dentistry’s Office of Research.
Traditional student research had ground to a halt this summer as social distancing limited access to labs, but a scaled-down virtual approach allowed these TRR students to tackle their research anyway. The grant calls for a focus on social determinants of public health, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
“That’s how COVID research is a natural fit,” says Dr. Peggy Timothe, assistant professor in public health sciences and a principal investigator for the TRR grant. “Even though it’s an infectious disease and all, in terms of the outcome it’s having on populations, it really varies depending on where people live, their race and ethnicity, their age … all are key issues of social determinants of health.”
Carrizales and Chen’s projects honed in on how COVID-19 has affected dental patients and providers, both nationwide and in Texas. Carrizales addressed “States’ Response to COVID-19 in the Dental Setting.” Chen focused on “Evaluating Adult Dental Medicaid During COVID-19.”
TRR co-investigator Anneta Bitouni, clinical assistant professor in comprehensive dentistry, guided Carrizales as she explored how states were handling state and national COVID-19 guidelines and recommendations—including those from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the American Dental Association—regarding the provision of dental care during the pandemic.
“Access to oral health care—a social determinant of health—was disturbed,” says Bitouni, a board-certified dental public health specialist. “Evaluation of individual states’ guidelines in regards to dental settings and how they compared to the national organizations’ recommendations gave us insight into what is done on a state and national level in order to re-establish access to oral health post-COVID-19.”
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