A trip to the American Dental Hygienists’ Association’s annual conference in June proved lucrative for three recent Texas A&M College of Dentistry graduates, marking two consecutive years of national recognition for the college in ADHA research poster session presentations.
Master’s degree graduate Tammy Fisher ’18 earned third place in the Dentsply Sirona/ADHA Graduate Student Clinician’s Research Program for her poster, “Screening Practices and Interventions by Pediatric Dentists in Texas to Address Childhood Obesity.” Dental hygiene graduates Tina Tabrizi ’19 and Samantha Barkis ’19 won honorable mention for their informative poster, “Chemomechanical Caries Removal: A Conservative Approach to Treating Dental Caries.”
Fisher says she first became interested in childhood obesity when she learned of the Texas public schools’ efforts to screen for acanthosis nigricans, a skin condition that occurs in people who are obese or at a higher risk for Type 2 diabetes. With direction from faculty mentor Lisa Mallonee, professor and graduate program director in the Caruth School of Dental Hygiene, Fisher was able to focus her topic on pediatric dentists’ role in fighting childhood obesity.
Although Texas pediatric dentists are proactive in screening for obesity through tracking patients’ weight and BMI, the resulting concerns may not be communicated to caregivers. Fisher, dental hygiene program director at Concorde Career College, says she based her findings on 117 pediatric dentists who completed her survey.
“Pediatric dentists are reporting that they perform many of the procedures that are used to identify childhood obesity. They are confident in their ability to do this. However, there is a gap between the delivery of services and their confidence levels — they’re not taking the results and discussing with the parents or caregivers,” she says.
Pediatric dentists could offer referrals to the appropriate health care provider and even practice prevention by distributing educational materials, making recommendations for diet and exercise and sharing healthy choices, says Fisher, who has a Master of Science in education for health care professionals.
Dentists could easily add these measures to their preventive checklist, she says, which already includes screening for cancer and checking for swollen lymph nodes. Now Fisher is motivated to come up with a screening tool that would be not only similar to caries management by risk assessment (CAMBRA) but could be used alongside the existing tool. Kornberg School of Dentistry at the University of Philadelphia recently came out with their own screening tool, she says, which will help parents make better dietary choices for their families.
“Obesity is a real hot topic right now,” she says. “In another 15 to 20 years, we’re going to have a really serious problem because if we continue like this, 70% to 80% of overweight children will become adults who are obese. Chronic disease could escalate if we don’t help children turn this around.”
As to the “amazing experience” of presenting her findings, Fisher gives immense credit in her preparation to Mallonee, as well as her other faculty mentors: Patricia Campbell, then professor and executive director of dental hygiene; Dr. Alton McWhorter, department head of pediatric dentistry; and Dr. Qian Wang, associate professor in biomedical sciences.
“I couldn’t have had a better committee or team to walk with me on this journey,” she says.
Barkis and Tabrizi’s dental hygiene faculty mentors were Dr. Faizan Kabani, assistant professor, and Kathy Muzzin, clinical professor.