Janssen wins Sicher Award

February 23rd, 2023

Dr. Abbey Janssen, alumna of Texas A&M School of Dentistry, has won the 2023 Harry Sicher Award – the second highest national research award presented by the American Association of Orthodontists.

Dr. Abbey Janssen

Janssen graduated in 2022 with a graduate certificate in orthodontics and master’s degree in oral biology. Her research work focused on the effects of dietary consistency – hard vs. soft food – on mandibular growth through the conversion of cartilage cells to bone cells.

“It’s a really interesting topic when you consider the impact of processed food and modern diets,” she said. “If you look at the jaws of humans from 300 years ago, the shape and size are very different. It’s too short of a time span to be a genetic change, leading us to believe it’s environmental, including things like diet.”

Janssen said she was thrilled to learn she won the award.

“It means the leaders in orthodontics think the research is significant and influential,” she said. “I’m happy to be part of the research that is impacting orthodontics today.”

Dr. Yan Jing, assistant professor in the orthodontics department, was Janssen’s mentor and is proud of her work.

“Janssen was motivated and excited about the research project from the start, working hard to unveil the secret of the relationship between diet and bone development, and correlate her findings to clinics,” Jing said.

Janssen first became interested in the work after taking a class in her first year with Dr. Peter Buschang, Robert E. Gaylord Endowed Chair in Orthodontics, regents professor and director of orthodontic research.

“Dr. Buschang stressed the importance of the environment in shaping the jaw, so I wanted to take a known environmental factor – hard food vs. soft food – and look more into how that plays a role in shaping the jaws at the microscopic level,” she said.

“My research shows that soft food does impair mandibular bone development.”

Janssen explained this could mean a hard food diet would be recommended to certain types of patients to improve bone growth or achieve a certain orthodontic outcome. Chewing gum or jaw clenching exercises might also be recommended for growing adolescent patients.

“We’ve done the groundwork to show it’s important, so the next step is to explore it clinically,” she said. “I hope it will be continued in our program and future residents can apply it at the clinical level.”

Janssen, whose whole family is in the medical field, said she was drawn to the artistic component of dentistry, especially orthodontics.

“I’m a meticulous person, and orthodontics requires immense planning and a lot of critical thinking, which I enjoy,” she said. “You’re also with your patients for two or three years with the ability to have a powerful impact on their lives as they grow and change.”

In 2022, Janssen won the Dr. William R. Proffit Resident Scholar Award from the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO). She currently practices at Frels Orthodontics in her hometown, Victoria, Texas.

“The orthodontics department at Texas A&M School of Dentistry is really special, and I think if you look at all the research awards it’s won, including mine, it showcases that our orthodontic department excels,” she said. “It conducts meaningful research that impacts the orthodontic community, and it’s shaping the future of orthodontic treatment.”

— Kristen Tribe

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